Sunday, June 29, 2008

Review: Songs for the Missing

Summary: An enthralling portrait of one family in the aftermath of a daughter’s disappearance

“It was the summer of her Chevette, of J.P. and letting her hair grow.” It was also the summer when, without warning, popular high school student Kim Larsen disappeared from her small Midwestern town. Her loving parents, her introverted sister, her friends and boyfriend, must now do everything they can to find her. As desperate search parties give way to pleading television appearances, and private investigations yield to personal revelations, we see one town’s intimate struggle to maintain hope, and finally, to live with the unknown.

Stewart O’Nan’s new novel begins with the suspense and pacing of a thriller and soon deepens into an affecting family drama of loss. On the heels of his critically acclaimed and nationally bestselling Last Night at the Lobster, Songs for the Missing is an honest, heartfelt account of one family’s attempt to find their child. With a soulful empathy for these ordinary heroes, O’Nan draws us into the world of this small Midwestern town and allows us to feel a part of this family. -- Book Jacket

I received an ARC of SONGS FOR THE MISSING through the Barnes and Noble First Look Book Club. It was my first experience reading a book by Stewart O'Nan, but it definitely won't be my last. I throughly enjoyed this book, so much that I couldn't put it down. While my intention was to read only those chapters that were being discussed each week, I found myself reading the last two-thirds of the book in (almost) one sitting.

While the subject matter of this book -- a young woman who goes missing and how this affects those who love her -- was very uncomfortable for me to read, I still was drawn into the story from the first few pages. I think one of the reasons that I loved this book so much was that SONGS OF THE MISSING was heavily character driven. In my opinion, Stewart O'Nan did an amazing job of creating very believable characters. The story was told through a third person narrator so the reader can really understand each of the characters and how they were affected by Kim's disappearance.

I can't begin to express how much this book touched me. The reactions of Kim's parents seemed very real to me. Her mother became absorbed in her efforts to draw attention to Kim's disappearance, while her father felt almost helpless as he tried to coordinate his own search efforts -- each reacting differently to a situation that they had no control over. In addition, they both end up placing some blame on Kim's friends for not sharing information that might have helped the search efforts. As a parent, I could see how they felt the need to blame someone for this trajedy.

While my heart went out to all of Kim's family and friends, I especially felt compassion for her younger sister Lindsay. Lindsay, already at an awkward age where teenagers have little if any self-confidence, felt she was living in the shadow of a pretty, popular older sister. When Kim goes missing, Lindsay becomes even more self-conscious choosing to spend most of her time in her room by herself. I kept rooting for Lindsay to see the beauty in herself and find her own voice rather than having to live in the shadows of a missing sister.

There were a few chapters that especially affected me. A particular poignant chapter dealt with the family's preparation for their first Christmas without Kim. In a touching scene, Kim's mother goes shopping to buy Christmas gifts for the family, including Kim. I felt tears coming to my eyes as she was deciding what was an appropriate gift for her.

Another scene that brought tears to my eyes was towards the end of the book when the town was having a ceremony for Kim during the half-time of a football game. Kim's family was still deeply affected by her disappearance over a year later; however, the town's people seemed to have moved on. While the stands were full for the football game, they emptied out during the ceremony.

I can't believe what I've been missing by not reading Mr. O'Nan's books. I am really just in awe of his beautiful writing. I'm not usually one to love books with a lot of description, but I found myself truly appreciating the way he described every scene in this book. His characters are also so vivid that I know they will remain in my mind for a long time. There is no question that I will be adding his other novels to my list of must-read books.

SONGS OF THE MISSING will be available on November 3, 2008.

Also reviewed at:
Books on the Brain


Amy said...

I also thought this was an outstanding book! I want to read his other books as well, but I don't know when I'll have the time.

Cheryl said...

Good to hear you liked this book. I wasn't sure about it but now I am adding it to my wish list to read

LisaMM said...

Great review, Julie. I thought it was great too. Thanks for the link.

I read O'Nan's Last NIght At The Lobster in one sitting- I mean I literally sat in one spot and read it cover to cover. IT's a novella, so very short, but completely absorbing. I got it at my local library (it's been out a while).

jkluginbill said...

Wonderful review. I will definitely put it on my list to read. Sometimes those uncomfortable ones make you appreciate the actual writing more.

Anna said...

I like books that make me uncomfortable. They get me thinking. Can't wait to read this one. Thanks for the review.