The Girl Who Was Taken: & part of me wishes she’d never been found

The girl who was taken book review

What is this about?: Megan is the girl that survived a kidnapping and the one that got away, which is great and everyone wants a piece of her for surviving — like through her bestselling book she didn’t write. But what no one wants to remember is the girl who didn’t —  Nicole.  Everyone except her sister, Livia, a forensics pathologist. Together, when new evidence appears Livia and Megan find themselves investigating an entirely different angle to Nicole’s kidnapping.

What else is this about?: I wish there was something else to add here, because this is not good people. Because Flashbacks. UGH.

Stars: 3

Blurb: Charlie Donlea, one of the most original new voices in suspense, returns with a haunting novel, laden with twists and high tension, about two abducted girls one who returns, one who doesn t and the forensics expert searching for answers.

Nicole Cutty and Megan McDonald are both high school seniors in the small town of Emerson Bay, North Carolina. When they disappear from a beach party one warm summer night, police launch a massive search. No clues are found, and hope is almost lost until Megan miraculously surfaces after escaping from a bunker deep in the woods.

A year later, the bestselling account of her ordeal has turned Megan from local hero to national celebrity. It s a triumphant, inspiring story, except for one inconvenient detail: Nicole is still missing. Nicole’s older sister Livia, a fellow in forensic pathology, expects that one day soon Nicole’s body will be found, and it will be up to someone like Livia to analyze the evidence and finally determine her sister’s fate. Instead, the first clue to Nicole s disappearance comes from another body that shows up in Livia’s morgue that of a young man connected to Nicole’s past. Livia reaches out to Megan for help, hoping to learn more about the night the two were taken. Other girls have gone missing too, and Livia is increasingly certain the cases are connected.

But Megan knows more than she revealed in her blockbuster book. Flashes of memory are coming together, pointing to something darker and more monstrous than her chilling memoir describes. And the deeper she and Livia dig, the more they realize that sometimes true terror lies in finding exactly what you’ve been looking for.

I am of the firm belief that if you have to have chapters of flashbacks, all in italics, in your book, then something is wrong. Sure, I could be entirely wrong and flashbacks are not like the annoying extra relative that gets added to a TV show in order to beef up the storylines. Dawn, I’m looking at you (She and the Slayers in waiting were just so bad and you’ll never convince me otherwise).

First the good bits

There’s a good story here with Megan and Livia, but it only really picks up picks up pace more than halfway-ish through the book. It’s Livia who gets the ball rolling when she’s assigned to do an autopsy on a body that ends up having close ties to her missing sister, Nicole. Meanwhile Megan is doing whatever people want her to do if only to have them leave her alone and in peace.

She wants to be able to breathe, to be rid of the claustrophobic attention around her, and that means giving in to certain things. That’s her life since her escape, and it’s utterly sad.

Livia is  focused and determined to be the best for the bodies she gets and their families, because that’s what she wants Nicole to get when they find her body, and yes, she’s reconciled herself to that fact. It’s a coping mechanism and she’s a scientist so it kind of makes sense. Even when her case starts taking off she’s cautious, and it’s only with Megan, with seeing her and working with her, that you see a little bit of hope come into her.

Megan is nothing like she expected and Donlea exposes survivor’s guilt, and resentment and all sorts of emotions that comes with being the one that got away, and the ones left behind to make sense of the gaping hole that is a missing family member.

They’re a powerful pairing, and the story takes flight when Megan finds her memories… but…

… Frigging flashbacks man

Flashbacks have their place, I do believe that because yes I have read and liked books where they’ve worked.

But, if a story is about life post a kidnapping, don’t try and sneak in chapters about how and the kidnapping happened or why the girls were never friends or why … decide what your book is about or just leave some details up to the reader and don’t explain everything.

The flashbacks I’m sad to say ruined this book for me. And I’m sadder to say they ruined the ending because at that point more than a little part of me was utterly glad not to have to turn another page to experience another flashback about teenagers playing at being… shitty teenagers to be honest. The whole good girl vs bad girl? Not a good cliché to be falling back on.

I don’t need to know why Megan and Nicole hated each other because I actually don’t care about what came before, I care more about how Megan and Livia investigate the case, and find or don’t find Nicole.

The only reason this is getting a 3 is because of the story in between the flashbacks — because Livia and Megan? THAT might have made a shorter book, but it is an infinitely better one. 


  • Kelly says:

    I can’t tell you how much throwing in Dawn annoyed me too, the series didn’t feel at all stale but they threw her in anyway and I’m assuming it was eventually to replace Buffy. The series started to die a little when Angel left though.

    This sounds like it could have been an amazing thriller but what’s with all the flashbacks? It sounds awkward and awfully disjointed. There’s nothing worse than getting into a book and the flashbacks stop the narration dead in it’s tracks. I’m so disappointed because this could have been amazing rather than meh. Brilliant review Verushka and glad you were still able to enjoy it <3

    • Verushka says:

      YES! When a character like Dawn is introduced it’s often when a show is in trouble, I think, and they need something else. Buffy was never in need of someone like her — and omg, the slayer-lites. No. I think that last season lost me completely.

      The core story of this? Such strong characterisation of two female characters, each working in their own way towards finding the truth. And the thing is, they were wonderfully flawed … ugh. I was so disappointed with the amount of flashbacks. Give me more of the central characters!

  • The premise is so interesting, I’m sorry this didn’t really work for you. I don’t mind flashbacks, but there is a time and a place for them. And having them all in italics? That would annoy me! haha

    • Verushka says:

      Italics are actually hard on the eyes for me, especially with pages and pages of it. I don’t mind flashbacks either but an author has to make them work well, and this didn’t.

  • The title of your post made me chuckle, haha. I typically don’t mind flashbacks but this sounds like wayyyyy too many, so I think I’ll be passing on this book. Awesome review though. Appreciate your honesty.

    • Verushka says:

      Yeah, the flashbacks made me grouchy when I was writing the review lol. I mean, they totally have a place, they really do. But not like this, nope.

  • Greg says:

    Ooh I like that cover but sorry to hear this was a disappointment. I’m not always a fan of flashbacks either- especially if they last for most of the book. I mean they’re okay to a point- but sounds like here they’re way too prevalent. I don’t think I’d care about the before stuff either, TBH. Oh and I love your title for this post… cracked me up!

    • Verushka says:

      LOL, yeah I was grouchy thinking about the flashbacks and these two wonderful characters sandwhiched between them. This should have been their book entirely.

  • OH NO!!!!!!!!!!!! It sounded so promising until I got to : What else is this about… 🙁

    That’s awful when a book disappoints you like that!

    Your Buffy/Dawn references made me chuckle so hard. I loved Buffy but I didn’t ever finish the series – I think I left not long after Dawn came in and Willow went a bit strange.

    The flashbacks do sound annoying in this situation but I’m glad that everything that happened in the current tense seemed to work well for you!

  • Lily says:

    I guess they do always have a time and place, not sure how I would feel about the flashbacks here myself. Sorry to hear that ruined it for you, as it sounds like it was going great

  • oh yeah.. I have read so many article on writing warning writer about flashbacks!!! They can be very disrupted of the flow!

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