It is spring in a small Pennsylvania mill town. Ten years ago the mill closed its doors for the final time. Since then, the town has suffered a dramatic economic decline.
Nate Winters, the high school baseball coach is eager for his star player to be drafted by one of the major colleges. During a pivotal game a freak of nature occurred. Hundreds of starlings fell dead to the ground. People were distressed and the game was cancelled. This event seemed ominous, but it was only the beginning of worse to come for Nate Winters.
Besides being the baseball coach, Nate teaches senior mathematics. He is dedicated to his students and tries to keep up with them on social media. He makes himself available to them after school etc.
“Everything now was so different: social media, the Internet, texting. It all sharpened people’s edges, made them the opposite of social. Turned them feral.”
Lucia Hamm is a high school senior. She is ‘different’ than her peers. The other students call her a witch. She is from a poor and dysfunctional family, delves in tarot, and has distinctive white hair. When things turn nasty at home, she turns to Nate Winters for help. He is there for her and pays for a motel room where she can keep away from her abusive brother. Unfortunately, the press are still in town. They have been hanging around ever since the strange phenomena of the mass bird death. They catch wind of Nate and Lucia at a motel and this creates massive trouble for Nate. The upshot of it is… he loses his job, his wife and child, and of course his reputation. This is crushing for Nate on many levels.
When Lucia was younger she had a best friend. She spent a lot of time at Taylor’s house. Taylor’s Mom generously provided Lucia with many meals and even helped her pay for extracurricular activities. When the Mill closed, that all ended. Gradually, the girls’ friendship eroded away…
Nate’s wife, Alecia Winters, is at the end of her emotional rope. Once she was a vibrant working woman, busy in a public relations career. Now, the mother of an autistic son, her every waking moment is centered around his needs. As a result, her marriage has been suffering lately. When she learns of Nate’s involvement with the student, she wastes no time in kicking him out of the marital home. Alecia doesn’t know whether to trust Nate’s denials.
Next we meet Bridget Peterson. She is the literature teacher at the high school and a good friend of both Nate and Alecia Winters. A recent widow, she is still grieving for her husband. As such, she has been a less than attentive teacher lately. Lucia is her student.
Bridget too, delves in tarot readings.
“We all become what people expect us to be.”
When Lucia goes missing, the entire town is rife with speculation. Nate Winters is affected more than anyone. The last person to see the girl, he is suspected of murdering her. Even his best friend, police officer Tripp Harris has his doubts.
Set in a Pennsylvania mill town without a mill, this story is about many things other than what is immediately apparent. Themes of desperation, lack of trust, wanting to be accepted, the longing for love, female friendship, student-teacher relationships, marriage, living with an autistic child, all play a part in the narrative.
The characters were engaging. The setting well rendered. The denouement well executed. A slow-paced thriller that will be enjoyed by many. Recommended!
I received a digital copy of this title from Atria Books/Simon & Schuster via NetGalley for purposes of this review. All opinions are my own.
Kate Moretti is the New York Times Bestselling author of Thought I Knew You, While You Were Gone, and Binds That Tie, and The Vanishing Year . She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two kids. She’s worked in the pharmaceutical industry for ten years as a scientist, and has been an avid fiction reader her entire life.
She enjoys traveling and cooking, although with two kids, a day job, and writing, she doesn’t get to do those things as much as she’d like.
Her lifelong dream is to buy an old house with a secret passageway.