Deviant things always happen in the suburbs, right? So in Wayward Girls, it’s a perfect New England summer when Sadie’s trouble begins. She is a precocious only child on the edge of adolescence—on the edge of becoming a woman, although she’s already curious about “womanly things:” boys, in particular. This summer seems like any other until Sadie and her best friend play a seemingly harmless prank on a lonely neighborhood girl. Soon after, that same little girl disappears from a backyard barbecue—and is never seen again.
Twenty years pass, and Sadie has grown into a wife and mother. She lives in the same, quiet New England suburb and seems to have put her past behind her. But when a boy from her childhood returns to town, the nightmares of that faraway summer begin to resurface, and its unsolved mysteries threaten to come to light.
This is Karen Brown’s first novel. She is a prolific, award-winning short story author, but I’m pleased she made the jump to novelist. The story of Sadie and “that summer” deserve a couple hundred pages, and I read them, hungrily, until the final word.
The Longings of Wayward Girls is a mystery, yes, but the mystery is a small part of the overall plot. Certainly, the ghosts of Sadie’s past haunt her in the future, and the slow unraveling of her childhood summer is frightening to watch—especially knowing what we, as reader, already know. Yet, the greatness of the mystery is overshadowed by the greatness of Sadie’s questioning as an adult.
Yes, she is a wife and mother. Yes, she’s happy … or is she? When her childhood crush returns, she finds herself questioning her marriage and the life she has chosen.
This book is effective on several literary levels, but more so, it’s effective to married women and women with children. Brown successfully makes you relate to Sadie. She does some villainous things, overwrought by confusion; yet, it was impossible to turn my back on her. I felt for her. I wanted to hug her, especially as I watched her wander down literal and metaphorical paths that led deep into dark forests.
I finished this book in three days, because Wayward Girls is impossible to put down. It’s amazing to watch the transition of Sadie from child to woman. Even more so, the revelation of a mystery solved will keep you turning the pages.
I can’t wait for Karen Brown’s next book. I’ll be the girl in line at the bookstore, waiting with open hands. She impressed me, and as a book snob, that’s not easy to do.