Book Pairings: The Kids Are Definitely Not Alright

A lot of readers I know have trouble with books that feature bad things happening to children. I’m not one of them. Somehow, I’m able to separate myself from my identity as a loving mother while I read. These two novels, though very different in tone and pacing, both have a missing child at the center of the story.

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When ten-year-old Sophie went missing from a shopping mall, Jessie Albright’s life changed in an instant. She went from being a wife and mother to a desperate woman completely consumed with searching for her missing daughter. Six years later, her marriage has fallen apart, and she has becomesobsessed with seeing signs from her daughter in every piece of trash on the street, every scrap of paper and broken toy. The enormity of her grief is exemplified by the piles of items collecting in her house, threatening to take up all space and crowd her out. Meanwhile, Sophie’s former best friend, Star, is having an equally difficult time dealing with her loss. She is dressing differently, smoking, and cutting herself to try to relieve her pain. When a handsome private investigator comes to town and a stray dog shows up on Jesse’s doorstep, both Jesse and Star find the impetus to start healing so they can move on with their lives. Adelstein doesn't shy away from the horrible messiness of grief, illuminating the rawness of Jesse and Star’s emotions and how difficult it is for each of them to come to terms with their feelings of guilt. Because Sophie was an avid birdwatcher, birds play a major role in the story, the symbolism of each species a clever way to add meaning and significance. While there is a mystery around what happened to Sophie, this is really more a story about healing, forgiveness, and grief, about finding a way to begin life anew in the wake of terrible tragedy.

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Holy Crap! This novel is a wild intense thrill ride. I think I held my breath the entire time I read this one. Darby Thorne, a college student in Colorado, is driving home to Utah to visit her mother who has just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. As she is driving through a snowstorm on a mountain pass, the storm intensifies and she is forced to stop at a rest area. Inside, she meets three men and one woman, and they soon learn they will be stranded there for the night. One of the men, Lars, is particularly creepy and Darby keeps her eye on his movements. When she goes out to her car to get something, she sees a horrifying sight—a girl trapped in a cage in the back of a van. She knows this van must belong to Lars, and she vows to save this girl no matter the cost. Seems straightforward, right? WRONG. This book has more twists and turns than my naturally curly hair. There are some gruesome scenes, lots of violence, and obviously children in peril. This one is definitely not for the faint of heart, but it is so well crafted. Make sure to buckle your seat belt tight and enjoy the wild ride.