The Missing Girl by Norma Fox Mazer

01Jun10

In the interests of full disclosure, I should tell you that I feel connected to Norma Fox Mazer–she was my teacher and I counted her among my friends. She was a graduate of Antioch College about 20 years before I was and she taught at the Vermont College MFA in Writing for Children program when I was a student there. Norma died last October and The Missing Girl was, I think, her last book.

Norma won a Newbery Medal for After the Rain.

The Missing Girl was named a Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association. Can you say something is daring and careful at the same time? You can, and this book is a case in point.

The first words of this book, the first chapter, puts us in the mind of the man. “If the man is lucky, in the morning on his way to work, he sees the girls. A flock of them, like birds.” We learn that he is careful, that he plans things. He considers meeting the girls a reward for changing his route to work. He wants to blend in, doesn’t want them to notice him.

image from borders.com

We meet each of the girls, the Herbert sisters, in her own chapter: Beauty, Autumn, Fancy, Stevie and Mim. Each one has her own dreams, her own personality. Each has her own point of view–Autumn, the youngest, is told in second person. She gets stomach aches about going to school, she’s bad at spelling and the school counselor is worried about her. “Mrs. Kalman is looking at you like she’s waiting for you to say something. What? What are you supposed to say? Your eyes wander up to the white-tiled ceiling. You like ceilings. They are like dreams . . . or stories.”

We learn, in small details, about the accident the girls’ father had that left him unable to work, and about how their mother seems unable to parent since then. Beauty, the oldest, carries this on her shoulders, she’s the one who really functions as the parent. She wants to leave her home and work and school, go anywhere but this town where she feels that she’s an outcast, stigmatized by her name and her looks and social awkwardness.

And we learn about the man . . . how proud he is of his obedient, well trained cats . . . and the number of cats buried in the back yard. We learn how careful he is to be good, to act “like any man.” He never thinks of what he’s doing as stalking . . . never thinks of himself as a predator or as the girls as prey even as he’s trying to decide which of the girls he “likes best.”

The Missing Girl is a carefully written book. Our understanding of each character is built carefully, using the character’s own insight and interactions, but also those of the other characters, seeing those interactions from the other points of view. The book moves slowly, deliberately to the terrifying event you know will happen.

The Missing Girl is not a flawless book, but it is a compelling, daring book. It is a book written for young adult girls about the kidnapping of a young adult girl by a predator, written in part from the point of view of the predator. But it is also about the humanity of each of the Herbert sisters, about their love for each other and about growth, and taking control of your own life.

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