As I mentioned a few days ago, I picked up Cemetery Girl by David J. Bell as part of an online book discussion group I'm recently a part of. It was an interesting book (such an apt description from my friend Amanda), but not necessarily one I liked.
Tom and Abby's daughter Caitlin disappeared when she was 12 years old. Four years later, the two are attempting -- to varying degrees of success -- to come to grips with the reality that their daughter is lost forever. As is sadly very common, the stress of the trauma has taken its toll on Tom and Abby's relationship, and they finally decide to separate. Tom blames Abby for trying to move on with her life and for her belief that Caitlin is dead. He scorns her faith and church, from which she has found comfort. Abby resents Tom's condescension, and struggles against his mindset that is firmly stuck in Caitlin's disappearance, and his refusal to acknowledge any other reality than the one in which she is just one step away from returning.
It's into this picture that 16 year-old Caitlin is picked up on the side of the road, days after a stripper told Tom she'd seen a girl who looked like Caitlin and a much older man in a strip club 6 months earlier. Tom and Abby are thrilled and shocked, and to make the situation even more odd to them, Caitlin refuses to talk about what happened or where she's been. And as they begin to try and put their life back together again, Tom becomes obsessed with finding out what happened, with finding someone to blame. Perhaps to the detriment of his newly reformed family.And here's where my thoughts get a little spoilery...be warned...
Cemetery Girl is basically the story of how a 12-year-old girl was kidnapped and manipulated by a gross pervert into a 4-year "relationship," and the aftermath of that situation. It's about obsession, Stockholm's syndrome, and family trauma. The writing itself was fairly unremarkable. The kind of writing that fades into the background, which can serve to help the story itself stand out. This can be a good thing, especially when you have a story so full of possibility as Cemetery Girl. Unfortunately, I just don't think the author delivered. I wanted a little more depth and nuance. There were a lot of things that just kind of fizzled in my mind, such as the background story of Tom and his dysfunctional relationship with his family.
The story was definitely told from Tom's perspective, and I do think the author does a good job of giving Tom a voice and a real presence. I think I missed getting a fuller view of the other characters who are all seen through his arrogant, self-absorbed eyes. We are in Tom's head to be sure, and as the story progresses he mentally unravels a little more each day. Tom himself just really pissed me off, primarily because he clearly need PROFESSIONAL help, and just refused to acknowledge that for himself OR for his daughter. I mean...some things are just not DIY. And for whatever her faults or the possibly (or not -- again, all Tom's perspective here) inappropriate relationship with Pastor Chris, at least Abby realized she needed some help to get through the mess and heartache. In the end, Tom's obsession with "finding out" almost backfires in a big way, and certainly leads him to act like a crazy person -- nearly jeopardizing the safety of his daughter in his search for "the truth." Of course, it all works out in the end, so he can continue to feel justified being an arrogant a**. On the up side, the Epilogue does provide a little hope for this broken family, and does show Caitlin getting much needed professional counseling. I'm usually okay with epilogues in books, although in this case it felt a little lazy. That said, the epilogue gives the reader closure on Caitlin's story, it let's us believe that Caitlin will be okay. And that part of the ending didn't belong to the bulk of the book because that story is all Tom's -- it's the obsessed, traumatized, grieving, angry parent's story.
Bottom line: Not great, but not terrible. If you need a book for a book club, and don't mind your books a little dark, this would certainly prompt discussion.