Grief has no timeline, no universal pattern—five stages be damned—and it can bring people together just as easily as it can tear them apart. In Rebecca McKanna‘s debut novel Don’t Forget the Girl, two friends learn this the hard way when their long-lost bestie’s suspected murderer is back in the spotlight, courtesy of his execution date. Many thanks to Sourcebooks Landmark for the ARC copy to review.
Twelve years have passed since Abby Hartmann’s disappearance and presumed murder at the hands of Jon Allan Blue. In that time, secrets, grudges, and the trauma of her loss have left her best friends, Bree and Chelsea, estranged and vulnerable to the media blitz surrounding Blue’s better-known crimes. In regards to the character-to-character relationships, Don’t Forget the Girl reads less like the thriller I expected and more like a multi-layered, introspective study in human psychology during and in the wake of a tragedy. McKanna uses flashbacks (the two main characters’ as well as those from the victim herself), podcast scripts, and interviews to build the narrative and give the characters a kind of depth that isn’t always achieved over the course of a few hundred pages. Fans of thorough background exposition and loaded dialogue will particularly enjoy the attention to detail and emotional depth.
One thing for potential readers to note is that this book deals with a wide range of negative emotion and dark thoughts. It’s a necessity given the subject matter and the grim trials each of the characters are put through because of an abduction and murder, but if that sounds like something that will trigger you, you might consider putting this book back on the shelf.
If that doesn’t scare you off, though, then prepare yourself for not only an emotional ride, but a deep dive on the modern media strategies that dominate the airwaves and cyberspace. While the perpetrator of an impressive roster of heinous acts is being analyzed and discussed on a massive scale, the victims like Abby become side notes, mere details supporting his story rather than their own separate narratives. It’s just the type of portrayal of real-life tactics that brings a home a kind of helplessness: a common theme throughout the novel, only represented in a multitude of ways and on varying levels.
For those who enjoy the emotional delving done in books like Speak or the personal trauma coupled with a greater narrative about justice such as one finds in Atonement, Don’t Forget the Girl is a highly impactful, consuming read that will stick with them long after the final page.