Heart-breaking, unsettling, but predictable: Then She Was Gone

Madison Donenfeld, Literature Review Editor

“Looking at it backward it was obvious all along. But back then, when she knew nothing about anything, she had not seen it coming. She had walked straight into it with her eyes open.”

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell is a run-of-the-mill psychological thriller. It follows a 15 year old girl, Ellie Mack, and jumps back and forth between two timelines: the months that lead up to Ellie’s kidnapping, and her mother Laurel’s life about 10 years later. Throughout the novel, the truth surrounding Ellie’s disappearance are revealed, as well as the small mess-ups that led to her death. Although the book is heart-breaking, tragic, and very, very stressful, all of which are normal characteristics of a thriller, the author adds a creative twist , giving us time to sympathize with and get to know our main characters before the devastating truth of what happened to them is revealed. 

One of the special parts about this book is that it explores many real-life issues and shows how such issues can spiral into a horrific situation. It details different, common situations like difficulties parenting or complicated relationships and how these “kinks in the timeline” affected Ellie. The struggles that our main characters, Ellie and Laurel, face are relatable to many different audiences. Both younger and older audiences may find bits of themselves in Ellie or Laurel’s characters. Ellie is a normal, likable teenage girl, which makes her story that much more heartbreaking. We start to really care about her character as we see the life she was living before her disappearance. 

As the readers learn what happened to Ellie, her mother, Laurel, is figuring it out as well. This makes the book much more personal as it seems as though we are working with Laurel to figure out the truth. For example, during the novel, Laurel starts to date a suspicious man named Floyd. It turns out that Floyd and his daughter Poppy have a strange connection to the disappearance of her daughter. Although the reader realizes this, Laurel does not until the final pages of the book. The suspense builds and you practically can’t put the book down (although, sometimes you have to; the book does get quite scary).

However, although the book was entertaining and the plot twists were amusing, it was relatively predictable. I knew exactly what was going to happen, and as a result, the ending wasn’t satisfying. I didn’t really gain much from reading the book. Despite the predictable plot, though, I really enjoyed the novel. The characters displayed complexity and peculiarity, and the writing style was very captivating, effectively making the book a thrilling and engaging narrative. I would recommend this book to anyone who has the desire to read an interesting, albeit relatively predictable, book. Did I finish the book in one day? Yes. I couldn’t stop reading. Would I read it again? Probably not. For any readers, or non readers who would like to jump more into the thriller genre, this is the perfect book to start with.