In the summer of 1935, six-year-old Emily Evans vanishes from her family’s vacation home on a remote Minnesota lake. Her disappearance destroys her mother, who spends the rest of her life at the lake house, hoping in vain that her favorite daughter will walk out of the woods. Emily’s two older sisters stay, too, each keeping her own private, decades-long vigil for the lost child.
Sixty years later Lucy, the quiet and watchful middle sister, lives in the lake house alone. Before she dies, she writes the story of that devastating summer in a notebook that she leaves, along with the house, to the only person to whom it might matter: her grandniece, Justine.
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For Justine, the lake house offers a chance to escape her manipulative boyfriend and give her daughters the stable home she never had. But it’s not the sanctuary she hoped for. The long Minnesota winter has begun. The house is cold and dilapidated, the frozen lake is silent and forbidding, and her only neighbour is a strange old man who seems to know more than he’s telling about the summer of 1935.
Soon Justine’s troubled oldest daughter becomes obsessed with Emily’s disappearance, her mother arrives with designs on her inheritance, and the man she left behind launches a dangerous plan to get her back. In a house steeped in the sorrows of the women who came before her, Justine must overcome their tragic legacy if she hopes to save herself and her children.
The Lost Girls is told in two timelines. First of all we hear from Lucy who is telling her story in the first person in her notebook. Lucy lives at the lake house with her older sister Lilith. They had another sister – Emily – who disappeared in 1935 when she was six. Forty-five years later their mother still lives with them. She has never stopped waiting for Emily to come home – her body was never found.
The second timeline is recounted in the third person and is the story of Lucy’s great-niece Justine. It is the winter of 1999 and Lucy has just died and left the lake house to Justine. Lilith’s daughter Maurie has not inherited anything other than $5000 and her mother’s jewellery.
Justine has two daughters Melanie and Angela. Their father walked out one day and never returned. Justine now lives with Patrick, a rather insecure and controlling man. When Justine learns of her inheritance, she packs a few things and leaves their home in San Diego to travel 2,000 miles to Lucy’s house. When they arrive they realise the house is run down, the weather is colder than anything they have ever encountered and they are miles from anywhere.
The lake house forms part of a summer community, so during the winter there is only one inhabited house nearby, that of Matthew and his brother Abe. They are a slightly strange pair, who have lived there since they were children, running The Lodge where visitors can stay or just come to eat and drink. While well-regarded, their family were never fully accepted in the community due to their Native American heritage. When Emily disappeared, Abe was the first suspect.
I grew very fond of Lucy while reading her journal, though the feeling started to wane towards the end. As the book progresses, we realise what a difficult childhood she and her sisters endured – their religious zealot and somewhat strange and sinister father, their cowardly mother and the way they are different from their friends, with their childish clothes and Mary Jane shoes. But I have to admit I never warmed to Justine or her mother Maurie. As a child, Justine was dragged from town to town and from one failed relationship to another. Attractive and entertaining on the outside, Maurie is inwardly selfish, bitter and shallow. I really tried to like Justine, but I struggled with her negativity. On the other hand, Matthew is kind, generous and honourable.
However, this is a wonderfully written novel and at times the descriptions are breath-taking in their beauty. The ending was totally unexpected. I don’t want to give anything away, but it was even sadder than I could possibly have imagined.
Many thanks to @annecater for inviting me to be part of #RandomThingsTours.
About the Author
Heather is the author of two novels. Her debut, The Lost Girls, won the Strand Award for Best First Novel and was nominated for an Edgar Award. The Distant Dead was published on June 9, 2020, and was named one of the Best Books of Summer by People Magazine, Parade, and CrimeReads. A former antitrust and intellectual property litigator, she traded the legal world for the literary one and earned her MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars in 2011. She lives in Mill Valley, California, where she writes, bikes, hikes, and reads books by other people that she wishes she’d written.