The Leaving by Tara Altebrando
Published May 25, 2016 by Bloomsbury
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars
From the blurb: Eleven years ago, six kindergarteners went missing without a trace. After all that time, the people left behind moved on, or tried to.Until today. Today five of those kids return. They're sixteen, and they are . . . fine. Scarlett comes home and finds a mom she barely recognizes, and doesn't really recognize the person she's supposed to be, either. But she thinks she remembers Lucas. Lucas remembers Scarlett, too, except they're entirely unable to recall where they've been or what happened to them. Neither of them remember the sixth victim, Max. He doesn't come back. Everyone wants answers. Most of all Max's sister Avery, who needs to find her brother--dead or alive--and isn't buying this whole memory-loss story.
I've long been aware of Tara Altebrando, but had never read anything by her until I received The Leaving, her latest novel about the abduction of six children. The story focuses on two of the returned children, now teenagers, Scarlett and Lucas, as well as Avery, the younger sister of the only child not to return, Max.
From the beginning I was intrigued but I also found myself confused as the story flits between different perspectives, in very quick chapters. It was disorientating but perfectly mimicked what I imagine the returned teens would have been feeling themselves. They have very few memories, even finding it hard to name themselves or each other, they cannot remember how they got there, they do not realise that one of them is missing, but they do have basic knowledge, they've clearly been educated and looked after as they they are all in good health.
Out of the three main characters, I found myself drawn to Scarlett the most. Her chapters are told in a creative way, often featuring blank pages, large spaces between words, and letters in different patterns and shapes, giving the reader a glimpse into how her mind is trying to cope. She returns home to a mother who is a recovering alcoholic and who is still clinging to the idea that the children were abducted by aliens.
Lucas was also easy to like, his determination to get revenge was understandable, and he returns home to his father, older brother, Ryan, and Ryan's girlfriend, Miranda. He's sure there was something between himself and Scarlett but he can't remember any details, it's just a feeling he has when he looks at her.
For some reason Avery really bothered me, I really didn't want her to be happy. I don't know why because she's been through a lot as the sibling of a missing child - her mother is depressed and her father travels a lot for work. She's tried to move on, tried to reinvent herself, but once the others return, all that is over. Avery finds herself drawn to Lucas, she is desperate for him to return her feelings, wanting so much to now put herself back into their story, a story that she has tried to ignore for the past eleven years.
I love mysteries and thrillers but often there's a lot of build up only to be let down by the reveal. I'm happy to say that wasn't the case here. Their story really stumped me, though I did pick up on a few clues along the way, however, it was impossible to guess who had been behind it all and why. The pacing was well done and it was so easy to put myself in their shoes, to feel their confusion, anger, and determination.
There was a lot of discussion of memories and the human mind, how we form memories, how easy it is to forget things, how easy it is to have a memory replaced or altered and I found all of it fascinating.
The Leaving is a realistic and chilling story of five children who've had their childhoods stolen, and it will definitely make you think about how and why we create the memories we do, which ones have been embellished, and just how much for forget every day.
Thank you to Allen & Unwin/Bloomsbury for the review copy. RRP A$16.99