Months after she disappeared, a high school senior is found floating in the town’s harbor, alive but unconscious. Where has Emily been, and how did she get into the water? In Kristen Bird’s “gripping” (Publishers Weekly) debut The Night She Went Missing, three friends-to-frenemies mothers in a close-knit, wealthy Texas community decide to investigate after the police hit a dead end. While each woman has secrets to protect, they’ll all be forced to look at their own children – or each other’s – to uncover the truth.
With the relentless pacing and complex female characters of Big Little Lies and an expertly crafted small town setting, The Night She Went Missing introduces Kristen Bird as a new force in the world of domestic suspense. Her novel goes well beyond that, exploring complex questions about mothers and daughters, loss, and the line between taking chances and living dangerously.
What’s it about (in a nutshell):
Because of a scandal, a couple moves their family of five from Oregon to Galveston, Texas. Months after moving, their teen daughter, Emily, goes missing for ten weeks. Strangers find her unconscious but alive; once she awakens, she has no memory of the events surrounding her disappearance.
What I Enjoyed:
I loved the story’s format. The plot’s timeline starts with what happened in Oregon and then moves on to life in Galveston, Texas–very chronological and easy to follow. But, from the beginning, there are brief interludes narrated by Emily that take place after strangers find her. This grabbed me from page 1 and kept the suspense high throughout the story, enough so that there was no putting it down. Usually, there is a lull at the beginning in domestic thrillers that can prolong reading, and that’s not the case with The Night She Went Missing, all because of Emily’s interludes.
The characters are hiding so many secrets. They don’t trust each other, and I didn’t trust any of them. Everyone was a suspect at different points in the story with a plausible case for why they might be behind the disappearance, and I ultimately bought into all of it being swept away by all the twists and turns. It’s the type of story where the journey is so fun; you don’t even need to figure out the end before you get to it.
I loved the location that the couple moved to-the husband’s hometown, where his mother is in charge of the local private school named for them. A small setting within a small town brings intriguing backstories with a history, which fits very well in a small southern town.
What I Wish:
As I mentioned, the characters are not particularly well-developed, and I always love excellent character development. So, if I were to wish anything about this story, it would be that, especially with the whodunnit and why.
The story, for me, is more of a plot-driven story, even though the narration focuses on three different mothers instrumental in the mystery. The characters are developed enough to understand them within the story’s parameters, but not so much that they are relatable or even sympathetic. They are all potential suspects, after all. And I gladly give up character development to keep up the suspense and the fast pace of the story.
Reminds Me Of:
The Night She Went Missing reminded me of YA thrillers with a private school/boarding school setting mixed with an adult domestic thriller set in a tight-knit community, and it has all the best components of both types of thrillers.
To Read or Not to Read:
If you like fast-paced thrillers told by fresh voices in the genre, The Night She Went Missing is just the book you are looking for.
Kristen Bird lives outside of Houston, Texas with her husband and three daughters. She earned her bachelor’s degree in music and mass media before completing a master’s in literature. She teaches high school English and writes with a cup of coffee in hand. In her free time, she likes to visit parks with her three daughters, watch quirky films with her husband and attempt to keep pace with her rescue lab-mixes. THE NIGHT SHE WENT MISSING is her debut novel.
They find me faceup in the murky water of the harbor on the day of my funeral. Or memorial service. Whatever. It’s not like there’s much difference. Dead is dead.
Except I’m not. I. Am. Not. Dead. I would pinch myself if I could move.
“Can you hear me? Hey, what’s your name? Can you open your eyes?”
My eyes are as dense and heavy as basalt. Basalt: rich in iron and magnesium, Mr. Schwartz penned on the board during our volcanic rock unit in eighth grade. I fight to come out of the emptiness that has held me for the past…the past what? Hours? Days? Weeks?
I attempt to whisper my name even though my eyelids remain anchored. Emily. That’s right. Emily. I can’t remember the last time I voiced those three syllables.
“Pull her up.”
Hands yank at me, jerking me from the arms of the water. Two hands wander up my body—over my feet, my legs, the arch of my hips, my arms, onto my neck, stopping at my forehead. This touch is not like the familiar plying of the boy I love, so fiery that it almost stings. This touch is necessary, cold, perfunctory. Perfunctory, Mrs. Abbot, my sophomore English teacher had pronounced for us students as we learned the word for the first time. P-E-R-F-U—
The voice cuts in. “Tell them we have a girl, a teenager. No broken bones as far as I can tell but looks like she’s been out here for hours. Unconscious, but breathing on her own.” His voice muff les as he turns his head. “I think she might be Emily.”
Suddenly, a brilliant choir of tenors and baritones and basses burst forth. “The Emily?”
Emily. Yes, that’s me. What a comforting thing to hear one’s name spoken by those who can point the way home. I breathe in gratitude and descend into the lightness of sleep before a hand touches my cheek again.
“You awake, Emily?”
The swooshing of the waves calls to me, a reminder that the song of the deep is steady despite all the new sounds: The bustle of work boots, the hum of the boat waiting to churn to life and set out across the open sea.
“Your mama’s been looking for you, Ms. Emily. You gave us all a fright. You hear me?” The man seems to sense that I can hear his words while my body remains frozen despite the warmth of the water and the sun overhead. “You’re gonna be okay, sweetheart. Yes, ma’am, you’re gonna make it just fine. Got a daughter about your age, and I woulda been worried sick if my girl had gone missing for weeks on end. Your mama sure is gonna be happy.”
A nasally voice now. “Where you think she’s been all this time? Turned into a mermaid?” The boy chuckles.
The man’s hand touches my forehead, his fingers sandpapery with callouses. “Now, sweetheart, if you can open your eyes for a sec, I can introduce you properly to the crew. We’re getting you help as fast as we can, but you can go ahead and open them eyes before all the medics arrive. They’d be good and relieved to see you looking around.”
I try. Oh, how I want to f licker them open, but my head aches and oblivion pulls harder. The siren call of the void is too tempting to resist.
Excerpted from The Night She Went Missing by Kristen Bird, Copyright © 2022 by Kristen Bird. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.