Tuesday, February 06, 2007

I recently finished my first Carol Plum-Ucci novel. I've seen her books before but somehow hadn't picked one up until I saw a copy of The Night My Sister Went Missing on the teen new book shelf. With a title like that and an intriguing cover to match, how could I possibly resist?

The plot centers on a beach party gone wrong. At first it seems like just another typical weekend in Mystic. A bunch of bored kids. Alcohol. The usual drama about who broke up and who made up. The perfect spot for this? A condemned amusement park up on the pier. The kids know they’re not supposed to go there, but they’ve never paid attention that particular law. Senior, Kurt Carmody has had this same Friday night so many times he’s sick of it. He’s itching for something new, but gets way more than he expected when someone pulls out a gun. It’s so small it seems like a toy. The kids pass it around, checking it out. No big deal. Until a shot rings out. While Kurt’s back is turned, his baby sister plunges over the side of the pier into the ocean. None of the witnesses can agree on what happened. Was she shot or did she dive? Was there blood on her neck, or not? Who was holding the gun when it went off and where is the gun now? And most of all—is Casey Carmody still alive?

As Kurt waits for news of his sister at the police station, he tries to piece together what happened. Kurt sneaks into an adjacent room to spy on the proceedings through the one-way glass as his friends are interviewed by police. There he learns more than he ever guessed about the petty jealousies, vicious rumors and secret agendas of the kids he’s known all his life. Everyone’s pointing the finger at Stacey Kearney, the rich, outspoken girl whom everyone knows but no one can get close to. Is it true she’s pregnant? Does she have an axe to grind because Kurt’s sister was dating her ex? Or is Stacey being set up? Desperately Kurt searches for the truth, hoping against hope that his sister survived her plunge into the sea.

I liked this book a lot. I wish I could say I loved it, but that’s not entirely true. I loved the plot. I loved the mystery. I loved the suspense and its twists and turns. But it seemed like this book was only a shadow of what it could have been. I could feel the potential of that better book brimming just below the surface of the book I was actually reading. This made my reading experience more than a little frustrating. It was hard to overlook the pretty bad dialogue—no one sounds like a teenager and yet they all sound almost exactly alike—but I pushed that aside because I wanted to know what was going to happen. It was harder to overlook the so-so quality of the main character and first person narrator. Kurt’s character development hinges on his breaking out of the average, predictable good guy mold he’s been cast in. It felt like the author was working overtime toward this character arc, but Kurt just didn’t feel like a real person to me. He didn’t come alive in a way that made me really care about what was going to happen to him. On the other hand, I really liked the Stacey Kearney character. But Kurt’s the main character and he just wasn’t all that believable. In fact most of the book’s characters felt unbelievable—I think it was that strained dialogue again. And then, something really aggravating happens at the end of the book, so aggravating and overly dramatic that it almost ruined the whole thing. Argh! That wasn’t supposed to happen, Carol Plum-Ucci! I did not like that particular plot twist one bit. (But I can’t go into it here for fear of spoilers.)

Despite my frustration I would recommend this book because the story is a good one. It’s a mystery and a suspense novel, and it’s got just enough intrigue to keep a reader reading. It’s short enough to appeal to reluctant readers too. (Of course that makes it not long enough for some English class assignments but hey, you can’t win ‘em all.) One thing I really appreciated was that the book did not turn into a moral tale. The blurb led me to believe I might be in for a didactic sermon posing as fiction on the issue of gun safety and poor teenage judgement, but happily the book didn’t take that turn. The reader is left to make his or her own decision about the folly of guns and alcohol without inflicting any wise-adult-lecturing-the-wayward-teens moment. Thank God! I guess I’d give this book a B minus. I’d definitely read another Plum-Ucci book and I’ll definitely be handing this book to teens but man, the potential this book had and missed!

That said, I’m still thinking about this book a week after I read it, so it’s had some kind of an effect. Yeah, definitely a B minus.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Karen,
I agree with the grade you gave this book...I know, YA authors are supposed to support one another, but I was very disappointed too...
Pamela Lowell