I used to read all the time, easily a book a day. Now, I struggle to stay interested in a book at all. I blame my iPhone and all the allure of social media and game apps, but that’s not the point here. The point is, this book grabbed my interest and held on. I could not put it down, and it’s been a long time since I have said that about a book.
The main character is Nicolette (Nic) Farrell. She is just a small town girl living in a lonely world, to quote Journey. She took the midnight train, goin’ anywhere.
Sort of, anyway. In the story’s opening, Nicolette is living in Philadelphia, in a loft apartment decorated “like Alice’s Wonderland” according to her fancy lawyer fiance, Everett. She has remade herself and shrugged off her small town background like an ill-fitting jacket. She lost her mother to cancer long ago. Her father suffers from dementia. She and her brother are not close. She has seemingly no strong connection to her own past. I thought she was very sad. Maybe it is because I am a small town girl suffering from some middle-aged nostalgia, missing what is lost.
Then, Nic is called back home to Cooley Ridge, North Carolina. Her brother, Daniel, needs help with their father, who is in a care facility and his dementia is progressing. Dad is almost out of money, and they need to sell the family home. Nic doesn’t seem to be very interested in going to help her brother, until she receives a letter from Dad which reads, “I need to talk to you. That girl. I saw that girl.” And, just like that, she has sublet her apartment, told her fiance not to worry, and is off to North Carolina.
Back in Cooley Ridge, she stays in the family home, untouched and empty since they placed their father in the care facility. Daniel, who never left Cooley Ridge, lives in his own home with his wife, Laura. Laura is very pregnant with their first child. Dialogue indicates that Nic is aware of Laura’s pregnancy, but she is otherwise very disconnected from it. It’s obvious she is not planning any baby showers or expressing any interest in coming to visit or help when the baby is born, etc.
Nic is very connected, however, to Tyler, her high school boyfriend, who also never left Cooley Ridge. He is a contractor now, and is helping with the house. The first order of business, getting the air conditioner fixed. Spoiler alert, he never gets it fixed. Tyler is a pickup man, all rugged, tan, hammer and nails. He is everything fancy Philadelphia Everett is not. Tyler has a girlfriend, Annaleise.
Tyler is a great distraction, but the real reason Nic came home was “that girl” her father saw. With Dad having dementia, she can’t get much out of him, but we learn “that girl” is Corinne, Nic’s best friend growing up. Corinne vanished 10 years ago, during the summer of their senior year. She was never found, but the investigation touched everyone close to Nic and Corinne, including Nic’s brother, Daniel, and her boyfriend Tyler, Corinne’s boyfriend Jackson, and their friend Bailey.
Nic herself is one of the missing girls of the book’s title, running from her grief to vanish into her life in the city. It’s why she holds herself apart from the only family she has and why she never told Everett about the defining event in her life, the disappearance of her best friend.
The other missing girl is Annaleise, who disappears within days of Nic’s arrival in Cooley Ridge. The investigation into her disappearance reveals that Annaleise had contacted police with questions about Corinne. Suspicion immediately falls on the people closest to Nic and Corinne. Even Nic’s father is questioned this time, as he keeps rambling about the girl he saw.
Once the novel has established Nic in Cooley Ridge, it jumps forward 15 days. The rest of the book is told backwards – the next chapter is the day before, and then the day before that, to bring the reader back to the beginning. I found this narrative structure confusing at first, and then irresistible. For example, in an earlier chapter, but on a later day, someone apologized to Nic about something that happened at Laura’s baby shower. I had to keep reading through to a later chapter set in the earlier day to find out what happened at the baby shower.
There were a handful of red herrings sprinkled throughout, thanks to Nic’s paranoia. Was there really someone watching her through the peephole of the apartment across the hall or was it a reflection of Nic’s anxiety? Everything Nic does, all her interactions with Daniel, Everett, Tyler, and Jackson, her panic over police interest in her father, her foolhardy efforts to try to find Annaleise on her own, her memories of Corinne, and even her missing diamond ring eventually coalesce together into a satisfying surprise ending.
I enjoyed this book very much – enough to read most of it in one sitting! I will keep it on my bookshelf for another read. Maybe I’ll read it backwards the second time.
I give it 4 missing rings out of 5.
Book: All the Missing Girls
Author: Megan Miranda
Publication date: June 28, 2016
Publisher: Simon & Schuster