Summer is a glorious time for children. The freedom of being out of school, chasing fireflies, and playing outdoor games all make for memories that will never be forgotten. Unfortunately, the carefree days can sometimes hide malevolence that is hiding beneath the sunshine and butterflies. In The Longings of Wayward Girls, Karen Brown explores the dichotomy between the lightness of the ideal and the weight of the real.
In 1974, a nine-year-old girl named Laura Loomis goes missing. While the townspeople in her small Connecticut town make their best effort to find her, she is never heard from again. This causes mothers all over the neighborhood to fear for their own children’s safety. The disappearance has a special effect on Sadie, since she is the spitting image of Laura Loomis.
Sadie spends her summer performing plays, exploring the woods behind her house, and playing tricks on Francie, a girl who Sadie’s mother insists that she has to include in her adventures. Sadie creates an imaginary boyfriend for Francie and is delighted when Francie falls for the ruse. As time goes on, and Francie disappears, Sadie is forced to examine her part in her disappearance.
This novel encompasses three different time periods. Two of them are in the 1970s, and we see how Sadie fits into the life of the town. In addition, we meet Sadie’s family and see into her troubled past. Sadie is not a sympathetic character, and her neighborhood and family have created scars that will last well into her future.
The other thread of the novel is in 2003, when Sadie is suffering the effects of a miscarriage. She runs into Ray, a man that she used to fantasize about as a child and who played a role in her family that even she does not understand. When she begins an affair with Ray, the fantasy of her adultery is outweighed by the real devastation she might create.
The Longing of Wayward Girls presents itself as a mystery, but much more time is spent on the inner life of Sadie than on the missing girls. While Francie’s disappearance is solved to my satisfaction, the reader must infer what happened to Laura. I confess that by the time I ended this novel, I didn’t care that much.
I did not find a single sympathetic character in this book (save Sadie’s children). Each character acts selfishly and seems on some level to be self-destructive. I felt as though I was wading through prose as I read—not enough dialogue, not enough insight into what would make these characters appealing.
The setting is well done, and it reminds me of long summers when I was a child. Looking for all of the other neighborhood kids, planning a party, acting as if school never would start again. Brown accomplishes her goal of presenting the ideal summer, even as malevolence is lurking just under the surface.
The ending felt rushed and anticlimactic. Not enough questions were answered, and it was quite lackluster. This book felt muddled and unfocused. The shifting timeline was a nuisance, rather than an asset. As a moody analysis of suburban secrets, The Longing of Wayward Girls works. As a mystery, it falls flat.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina