The Mind Can Play Awful Games: Before She Was Found

Originally published April 2019

I need Millie Bobby Brown to the set, please.

I can sometimes get on a kick in which I picture characters in a book I am reading as the celebrities that I think would best play them — in this case, MBB in the role of Cora Landry, a highly anxious 12-year-old just trying to survive middle school in Heather Gudenkauf’s latest, “Before She Was Found.”

I’ve been a Gudenkauf fan since “The Weight of Silence” and remain impressed that seven books in, she is still able to come up with new and different twists for her psychological thrillers, most of them involving children and always (I think, I’d have to go back and check) in Iowa.

In the case of “Before She Was Found,” readers are introduced to Cora as she lay bleeding on the tracks down in the old train yard. A mother’s intuition (and a ride from a paramour) lead to a reunion at the scene of the crime between Cora’s friend Violet and her mother Beth. Violet’s blood-covered and in shock, Cora is nearly dead. What the hell happened?

Gudenkauf employs journal entries and multiple points of views to lead us from the initial attack, back to the beginning, with Violet’s arrival in Pitch, Iowa and Cora’s initial attempts to make friends with the new girl in town. It’s an opportunity to recast herself differently than she’s already been painted as — the strange, quiet girl with no friends. But of course, you can’t have middle school without the drama, and in this case, it goes by the name of Jordyn Petit.

The friendship triangle that is Jordyn, Violet and Cora is the centerpiece of this whodunit, with peripheral characters including schoolteacher John Dover; Mara and Jim Landry, Cora’s parents; Beth Crow and her son Max, Violet’s family; and Thomas and Tess, Jordyn’s grandparents and guardians. The only thing I found somewhat frustrating was that, much like most thrillers, these characters are meant as decoys so their storylines can feel unfinished. I mean, Jim Landry …. COME ON. Is he a tool or not?

If you’ve never read a Heather Gudenkauf book, I highly recommend them — perfect for a quick weekend read, and with summer coming up, this one fits nicely on your beach reads list. I read it in a day, desperate to uncover who hurt Cora and hopeful Jordyn would get her comeuppance. (And for Mara to leave Jim, because …. really.)

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