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A Taut Thriller With an Ending You Won’t See Coming

Leora Bernstein, when asked her favorite genres, tends to name all of them, but she’ll try to pare it down here. Currently, she’s on a psychological thriller kick, but she’s also been known to blast through memoirs, narrative non-fiction (particularly current events), dystopia/post-apocalyptic fiction, coming-of-age novels, and (of course) anything theater related. Her favorite kinds of books invoke the kind of conversation you only see after a particularly controversial episode of Sunday night must-see TV, with fantastic world-building and a political/philosophical undertone. She works in sales, as the National Accounts Manager for Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Ingram Entertainment selling the adult list.

I had a friend who was notoriously hard to please, readingwise. She’d read pretty much every woman’s thriller you could think of—“girl looking for another girl’s killer” thrillers, “girl looking for her missing child” thrillers, “girl knowing something has gone wrong and no one will listen” thrillers, even “girl is a brilliant but fallen detective who fights against her own stereotype” thrillers—and every time she would guess the ending. So when she asked me what she should read next, I practically threw THEN SHE WAS GONE at her.

Two days later, I get a text from her, taking a stab at how it ended. I just grinned. No one can guess the end of this book. Nor should anyone be able to. Honestly, if you have a friend who can guess the end of THEN SHE WAS GONE, stop being friends with that person.

THEN SHE WAS GONE begins as many other books do, with a parent distraught over a missing child. Ten years after the disappearance of her daughter Ellie, Laurel is still broken. She’s lost her husband, her other kids barely speak to her, and every time she sees someone who looks like Ellie, she flashes back to the day her 13-year-old girl went to the library to study and never came home.


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But, as all great stories do, the appearance of a new man in Laurel’s life puts the wheels in motion for her to find some closure. He makes her feel like there can be life after Ellie’s disappearance, and she begins to think she might be able to move on. But what she doesn’t know is that his appearance isn’t a coincidence, and the closure she’ll get isn’t the kind she expected.

There’s something about this book that is horrifically satisfying. It doesn’t pull its punches. It tells the story as it has to be told. Sure, people beg for the alternate ending, but that’s not how these characters were ever going to act, and that’s not how this story was ever going to end.

This is storytelling at its best, because it doesn’t ever feel forced. It’s also highly disturbing—there is no blood, no violence, yet the reveal exposes how cheap human life is to some people—but that doesn’t put you off or stop you from reading until the very last page.

My friend finished the book and texted me again: “Wow. Just. Wow. When does her next book come out?” I call that a satisfied customer.

Then She Was Gone
Lisa Jewell

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