Told from the point of view of 15 year old Lydia Pasternak, this is the story of how her family coped with the tragedy of her missing teenaged brother. Danny, Lydia's older brother, was not much of a student but he was the quintessential jock and all around popular teen in high schoolwith everyone wanting to be his friend. At home, the house seemed too small to hold him and all his noise and exuberance. Lydia, on the other hand was very introspective, bookish and more interested in geopolitical news than most teens her age. She had only one friend, David Nelson, who shared the same interests with her. The two of them were considered nerdy outcasts. Danny being among the missing changed Lydia’s life as she knew it. She actually thought his going missing was the most interesting thing he had ever done. The big change at home was that her mother was so distraught, she let everyday things slide. There was rarely any food in the house and not much else was accomplished. The Pasternak household had previously revolved around Danny and his sports;now it revolved around the nightly news and organizing searches for him. The big change at school was that now even Danny’s friends acted more kindly to her and girls who formerly would not give her the time of day, want to be her friend. This gave Lydia a new sense of empowerment and exhilaration. She feels she now has a better understanding of what Danny’s life was like as she discovers she likes to get drunk at parties and not be so in control. She says , “it was nice being stupid, the way it made people take care of me.”
When Lydia’s mother and father hire a new investigator Denis, Lydia begins to have a fascination with the investigation and Denis himself. She develops a crush on him and wants to help him look for Danny. She starts organizing all her mother’s papers and letters sent by people saying they had seen Danny. She even spends a day with the investigator tracking down people’s stories. She feels that the task is more about figuring it out than it was heart wrenching. It’s many months later that they finally find out what happened to Danny. Lydia does not seem to exhibit much grief but she internalized it. For years, she had insomnia and still felt she could feel Danny’s presence in the air. The tragedy certainly changed Lydia and her family and left a void in all of their lives.
This debut novel by Miriam Gershow is extremely well written. Since it is told from Lydia’s perspective, the reader gets an in depth look into how she feels and thinks on a daily basis. Ms. Gershow gives an authentic voice to the life and feelings of all the teenagers in the story. The mother is fleshed out much more deeply than the father. Her feeling of loss is almost palpable. The father is sort of a cardboard character that I didn’t get much from. I think even the P.I., Denis, was more deeply characterized. The end of the book is told as Lydia is back in town for her 10th high school reunion. It deftly showed how Lydia and her mother were changed by the incident and how they grew from it. Lydia has a much better understanding of her mother and finally realizes that grief shared is grief diffused.
The premise of the book reminded me of Song for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan, except that it was written with much more depth of detail and feeling. Although I did enjoy the book, I could easily put it down for later. Therefore I would rate the book as 3 *** Thank you to Shelf Awareness and Spiegel & Grau for an advance copy of this novel.
The author's website can be found here.