Eighteen year old Sarabeth lives with her parents on a remote Arkansas farm. Her family has joined a Christian cult not too long before and Sarabeth, who misses her old life, rebels against the strict rules imposed upon her. After her parents try to arrange for her to be married to an older man, she contemplates running away. Fate intervenes, though; while selling produce, a stranger takes her away and locks her in his basement. A week later, she is found by the roadside with blood on her clothes and no idea of what has happened or who took her. Some years later, Sarabeth – now Sarah – lives alone and works at an animal shelter, when she’s contacted by the police. Other girls have gone missing, and Sarah is forced to return to her family’s fold to figure out who took the girls and whether their disappearances have anything to do with what happened to her.
This was a good-not-great book for me. The plot is intriguing and keeps you guessing, and Sarah is a sympathetic protagonist. The topic of religion is a hairy one, but McHugh manages to treat it with a fairly balanced view. The prose is steady, naturalistic and never overwrought, and though the ending of the book ties everything up a little too neatly, at the very least it’s satisfying. What took me by surprise, though, is the pace.
It can be tricky for a writer to find the balance between rushing things and becoming overly descriptive and for the first three quarters of the book, McHugh has it down pat, giving us just enough to paint a vivid picture without boring us. But the last part of the book feels incredibly rushed. The plot resolution is a bit too neat, too convenient, and suddenly the novel reads as if she only drafted the last couple of chapters and couldn’t be bothered to write out the entire thing. The story, which had been flowing along nicely, suddenly dials it up to 100 for a few pages before wiping its hands on its apron and asking “so what else is happening?” And that’s a shame, because at its core it’s a well-written thriller. It’s good. But if it had been a bit more fleshed out, a bit less uneven, then it could have been great.