Review: The Longings of Wayward Girls by Karen Brown

The Longings of Wayward Girls It’s an idyllic New England summer, and Sadie is a precocious only child on the edge of adolescence. It seems like July and August will pass lazily by, just as they have every year before. But one day, Sadie and her best friend play a seemingly harmless prank on a neighborhood girl. Soon after, that same little girl disappears from a backyard barbecue—and she is never seen again. Twenty years pass, and Sadie is still living in the same quiet suburb. She’s married to a good man, has two beautiful children, and seems to have put her past behind her. But when a boy from her old neighborhood returns to town, the nightmares of that summer will begin to resurface, and its unsolved mysteries will finally become clear.” – Publisher Summary

The Longings of Wayward Girls by Karen Brown is written as a dual narrative – albeit from one individual – that flips back and forth through time from the summer of 1974 to the summer of 2003. Interspersed within the narratives are newspaper articles from 1974 regarding a missing 9-year-old girl named Laura Loomis. In the summer of 1979, young Sadie and a friend decide to play what appears to be a cruel yet harmless prank on a less “popular” girl, Francie, but things quickly go downhill when Francie disappears and is never heard from again. Fast-forward to 2003, when a “happily married” Sadie is grieving a late-term miscarriage while still trying to care for her husband and two other children. The subsequent appearance of a childhood crush and the powerful mutual attraction that combusts between them not only pulls Sadie back into the past she has tried so hard to forget, but pulls her down a current path of risk and deception. Along the way, pieces slowly begin to fall together and the mystery of the missing Francie is solved.

You will need to be patient with this book because it does not reveal itself quickly. Each character seems to have many secrets, or secret agendas, and time can drag a bit because of this. At the same time, it does serve to create an aura of suspense. The storyline of Laura Loomis and her disappearance seemed unnecessary and out of place – it didn’t lead anywhere and ultimately was completely unrelated to any other event in the book. The mystery of Francie’s disappearance, however, does play an important part of the plot and intertwines with Sadie’s. Sadie herself is somewhat off-putting, however, I think this was intentional. She wasn’t meant to be loveable, or even likeable, but was shown to us wholly – faults and all.

Karen Brown has said that it was important to her to write about mothering and being mothered. She certainly succeeded here – with Sadie’s mother, Clare, and her dysfunctional role as a bipolar alcoholic, with Sadie’s guilt and concerns about her own perceived mistakes and failures as a mother, and even the ever-present coven of judgmental mothers that can be found today in most every suburban neighborhood.

The Longings of Wayward Girls is a haunting tale, a psychological novel that plays on emotions you wouldn’t necessarily expect it to. Brown clutches us in the grip of her writing, pulling us further and further into the story. Give this one a chance. Don’t expect it to play out easily or smoothly. It is not resolved quickly or clearly. You will need to just grab on and go along for the ride to truly enjoy this tale. So hang on, friends, and enjoy the trip.

The Longings of Wayward Girls will be available for purchase as of July 2, 2013.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Atria Books/Washington Square Press (via NetGalley)

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