by Alexandra Sirowy
'Twelve years ago Stella and Jeanie vanished while picking strawberries. Stella returned minutes later, with no memory of what happened. Jeanie was never seen or heard from again.
Now Stella is seventeen, and she’s over it. She’s the lucky one who survived, and sure, the case is still cloaked in mystery—and it’s her small town’s ugly legacy—but Stella is focused on the coming summer. She’s got a great best friend, a hookup with an irresistibly crooked smile, and two months of beach days stretching out before her.
Then along comes a corpse, a little girl who washes up in an ancient cemetery after a mudslide, and who has red hair just like Jeanie did. Suddenly memories of that haunting day begin to return, and when Stella discovers that other red-headed girls have gone missing as well, she begins to suspect that something sinister is at work.
And before the summer ends, Stella will learn the hard way that if you hunt for monsters, you will find them.'
*** SPOILERS ***
(But it doesn't matter because you won't want to read the book anyway.)
Holy bonkers, this book sucked. If I rated with stars, this would be a zero. The story made no sense! At first as I was going along I was irked because it seemed like the author was trying too hard to set up as many suspects and scenarios as possible to keep you guessing. But then when it came down to it, it was a mix of all things . . . and it was none of them. It was just stupid. It was also freaking annoying to have all the side story stuff about being popular and sorting out feelings for a boy and whatnot.
Okay, years ago when Stella and her friend Jeanie were six years old, they were playing in the woods and something happened. Jeanie vanished. No trace was ever found. Being only six, Stella was traumatized by whatever happened and had no memories that could help solve the mystery. Years go by, she still doesn't remember. It only really becomes a problem for her around the anniversary date each year because all the kids in town have a big bonfire and drinking party. They say it's a way to keep Jeanie's memory alive but really, even Stella admits, it's just an excuse to party. Well, this year at the big party, as the book begins, the body of a little girl is found. The media and the town freak out because it seems to reopen the case, what with all the similarities to Jeanie's case. Huh? Jeanie disappeared. There was no trace of her. She was in the woods. This girl was in the cemetery. The only similarities are that they were both little girls and had red hair.
Whatever. It starts jolting Stella with fragmented memories from all those years ago. The media attention is causing all kinds of problems for her. Jeanie's much troubled older brother, Daniel. is back in town and he's harassing Stella again. He's always seemed to feel it was somehow Stella's fault, what happened to his little sister. Then Jeanie and Daniel's mother is murdered and their father is arrested for the crime, but later released.
Stella's best friend since early childhood is Zoey. Zoey's only goal is to be popular. She and Stella are quite slutty and quite popular . . . and quite mean. Zoey's pressure to be popular had made Stella turn her back on one her best friends, a boy named Sam, years ago because he just wasn't cool enough. For whatever reason, she reconnects with him now during these troubled times, and realizes she's in love with him. So we have all this side story stuff with them awkwardly trying to get over the past and becoming a couple, much to Zoey's anger and dismay. Zoey also has an older brother named Caleb who Stella had always been close to. He was like the big brother she never had.
There are also distractions like Stella's father being a lawyer who works too much, and her mother who abandoned the family years ago.
Now let's add into the mess, an old legend about some monster who supposedly lives in the woods. Oh and let's not forget the other little girls that went missing way back in the 1930s. Oh yeah, and then there is the creepy old lady who lives way out in the boonies who threatens people with a shotgun and crazy hints that she might know more than she lets on. And what are those mysterious piles of dirt all over her yard that look like small graves?
Now imagine trying to read this when you're bouncing all over the place among all those little stories and all that information. It looks like Daniel, the brother, killed Jeanie. But why? Wait, no, he couldn't have killed the girls back in the '30s. The creepy old lady is old enough though. Maybe she did it! But why? She spits out little hints that seem to indicate she tried to help Jeanie. And why has the mom turned up dead now? Ohhhhh, so maybe the dad really did do it?! But no, there is a monster in the woods who has been eating little girls for a hundred years. Then why was there a thousand year old Chippewa Indian artifact finger bone in the hand of the most recent dead little girl? And why is Caleb suddenly back in town acting all suspicious? And while we're at it, why does sweet and wonderful boyfriend Sam always seem to be the one coming up with information to everything? Just where was he all those years ago when Jeanie was taken?? (Even though he was only six.) Did I mention the one remaining policeman who worked the original Jeanie case, who has remained close to Stella all these years, who is acting strangely uncomfortable about the whole idea of reopening the case and about the monster story, who then tells Stella another monster story that his own grandmother had told him?
None of it is ever making sense as you read. It's not suspenseful or creepy. It's just cluttered and choppy and confusing. Things are introduced, then dropped. Other things pop up in the story later when there was no hint or mention or reason for them earlier. You start to form your opinion but then it jumps back to something else that you can't find a way to connect with what you've been figuring out.
And by the end of the book when the author *tries* to tie everything together and wrap things up, it still makes no sense at all. It was an attempt to build a complex 'keep you guessing' story that fails miserably because the pieces never really fit together.
So what did happen?
Daniel DID do it. Aha! But no, wait! It was an accident. He shot little Jeanie with an arrow. But wait! I said wait! It was an accident. Yeah, huh, he meant to hit Stella. Waaaaaaait. He's only meant to scare Stella, maybe just graze her arm. But yeah, a nine year old playing in the woods really has that much skill or planning. Okay, so he hits his sister and is horrified. By the way, Caleb was with him. The two older boys tell six year old Stella to stay with a dying and terrified six year old Jeanie while they run home to get Mom. Of course six year old Stella is equally terrified and she ends up running off too, and getting lost in the woods. Because of this, the boys can't find their way back to the spot Jeanie was supposed to be, and she's never seen again. This part might have been a good enough story, rather sad even. But no. Now we've got to tie in all that other crap.
Apparently Daniel grew up hating Stella and blaming her for what happened. In his mind if she'd never have left Jeanie things would have worked out differently. He's hated Stella all these years though, afraid that she'd remember and tell everyone that he had done it. Well, didn't people already know that when he ran back to get his mom? When they couldn't find her, did they decide to change the story and just turn it into a missing child story? Daniel killed his mother years later, present day, because she was going to say something about it being him that did it. Why now? Daniel was manipulating Caleb all along, so Caleb wouldn't tell either. They used the old legend of the monster in the woods to suggest THAT was what happened to Jeanie. And Caleb had lived in fear all these years, starting to believe there really was a monster. Then Jeanie and Daniel's dad is arrested, released, and then later confesses to killing his daughter and wife. Huh?! Why? Ohhhh, to take the blame for his son, out of guilt, feeling like he'd failed his whole family. Oh yeah, that makes sense.
Those missing girls back in the '30s? Oh, just some pervert stalker who murdered little girls. Totally unrelated to anything.
The creepy old lady? Yeah, those were graves of small animals and pets all over her yard. Why? Because I forgot to mention the animal sacrifices, and all the time and attention some characters put into finding information about that and trying to tie it to the missing girls. Apparently, the people were much more superstitious in the old days, much more believing in the monster in the woods, and would offer sacrifices to keep it happy. Most people in more recent years though, don't even know about the monster stories. Why? Because every other generation or so thought it might be better to just hide that story because sick people might think they could commit crimes and blame it on the monster.
What?! Are you following any of this? Neither am I.