A cozy New England hamlet definitely needs some mystery and dark secrets to make life interesting, and Karen Brown delivers with The Longings of Wayward Girls. In the summer of 1979, Sadie is a 12-year-old girl with a big imagination, a flair for the dramatic and just enough boredom to lead her into trouble. She also physically resembles another neighborhood girl who disappeared five years prior, a coincidence that will continue to haunt her into adulthood. Sadie and her best friend play a trick on Francie, a younger neighbor, leaving her a series of letters supposedly written by a boy from an earlier era. Francie’s letters back to the imaginary person become darker and more telling of trouble at home, but Sadie and her friend are not mature enough to understand this. Soon after, Francie becomes the second girl in the neighborhood to disappear, and Sadie and her friend harbor guilt over her disappearance. Twenty-four years later, Sadie is living the quintessential stay-at-home mother existence in her hometown. Yet she remains haunted by her dysfunctional family history, a recent stillbirth and her own lack of professional accomplishments, not to mention the long-ago unsolved disappearances of the two girls.
In some ways, this is a typical suburban drama about families with underlying issues: Sadie’s alcoholic, suicidal mother; Francie’s abusive father; another neighbor’s odd obsession with Christmas displays. Yet Brown fine tunes the characters and brings enough details about suburban living into the writing to authenticate the scenes. The characters are not always likeable, but their past traumas and upbringings do provide a modicum of explanation for their current actions and personalities. Those who enjoy authors like Jennifer McMahon or Heather Gudenkauf will become intrigued with this community brimming with past and present secrets.