Torn to Pieces

Torn to Pieces

4.6 13
by Margot McDonnell

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Anne is used to her single mother’s being away on extended business trips. But when her mom is a few days late coming home and her hotel phone has been disconnected, Anne knows something is wrong. Then a strange man starts leaving messages on their answering machine, threatening a woman Anne has never heard of.
Frightened and worried, Anne

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Anne is used to her single mother’s being away on extended business trips. But when her mom is a few days late coming home and her hotel phone has been disconnected, Anne knows something is wrong. Then a strange man starts leaving messages on their answering machine, threatening a woman Anne has never heard of.
Frightened and worried, Anne confides in her grandparents, who give Anne a sealed envelope containing a letter that her mother wrote before she left. With each page, the fabric of Anne’s relatively normal life is torn to pieces. Not only does her mother explain why she disappeared, but she reveals other dark secrets that put Anne in grave danger. Now Anne doesn’t know whom to trust . . . especially since those closest to her are not who they claim to be.

Editorial Reviews

KLIATT - Claire Rosser
I kept trying to guess what was going to happen in this thriller and never was quite right, so kudos to McDonnell for a challenging story. Anne is brilliant, 17 years old, with a strange family life, to say the least. Her mother is frequently away on business—Anne believes she is a writer and has to be away on assignment. We all stop believing that fairly quickly. A loving elderly couple, known to Anne as her grandparents, are always there to provide a meal and a bed, if Anne doesn't want to stay alone in the big house she shares with her mother when her mother is away. There is a letter Anne's mother left for her, which her grandparents give her to read, and this letter reveals secrets that tear to pieces the life Anne has known. What happens in this suspenseful action novel is that people are not what they seem, that Anne is in great danger, her mother disappears and is believed to be dead, their home is robbed, and there are thousands of dollars still hidden away and mysteries only Anne can solve—well, the FBI is also involved. Anne is more independent, smarter and braver than most 17-year-old girls. This is a mystery that will fascinate those looking for good escape reading. Reviewer: Claire Rosser
Children's Literature - Meredith Kiger
Seventeen-year-old Anne lives in a small Midwestern town. She is being raised by a woman she thinks is her mother and a couple she thinks are her grandparents, who live next door. Anne has always known her mother to be a bit quirky and standoffish—Anne is that way herself. She has never really understood what her mother does for a living or why she disappears for days at times, although she always stays in touch. They have moved around a lot through the years—often at a moment's notice, with Anne's grandparents in tow. One day, while her mother is out of town, Anne finds a letter. It is from her mother, and it is addressed to Anne. The letter begins to unravel a tortuous, cautionary tale of Anne's beginning in this world and the predicament her mother is in. Anne discovers that she is not really her mother's natural daughter and that her grandparents are just close friends who have been involved in the secret-keeping all along. Anne is in danger from people in her mother's past as well as from those who have been angered in her mother's mysterious work. It's a series of twists and turns that not only involves U.S. Marshalls but Anne's friends at school and a little love interest. The characters and plot are well-developed and make an engaging read for teenagers and older students alike. Reviewer: Meredith Kiger, Ph.D.
School Library Journal

Gr 8-11

Anne, 17, is used to her eccentric mother's comings and goings; after all, the woman is a biographer who must travel to interview the subjects of her books. Anne is used to her mother pulling up roots and moving the two of them and her grandparents to a new town. She is definitely used to having few friends and fewer boyfriends. All that changes when two new boys show an unusual interest in her. A phone message from her mother leads her to thousands of dollars stashed inside a hollowed-out book, and then her mother doesn't return from one of her trips. When Anne calls the woman's cell, the number has been disconnected, and there is no record of her at the hotel where she was supposedly staying. As the teen begins to unravel the mystery of her mother's identity, she discovers that all she has ever known has been a fabrication. Fast-paced and exciting, this book is a perfect choice for fans of Caroline Cooney's "The Face on the Milk Carton" series (Random). The complicated plot takes a little deciphering to figure out, but persistent readers will be rewarded for their efforts. Anne is an articulate and intelligent heroine, and readers will identify with her sense of social isolation as they live vicariously through her courage and tenacity.-Heather M. Campbell, formerly at Philip S. Miller Library, Castle Rock, CO

Kirkus Reviews
When her mother doesn't return from a business trip, Anne is handed a letter that shatters her world, as it reveals both that she's adopted and that her mom's work revolves around shady, illegal dealings. McDonnell doles out the revelatory letter in alternating chapters, providing gripping installments of Anne's family history and her mother's second life as a cunning runner of drugs, money and information. When underworld associates appear looking for paybacks, Anne frantically works to piece together the past, desperate for answers and her mom. This mystery's unrelenting pace, as well as Anne's mercurial attraction to two boys who continually surface throughout her ordeal, keeps readers turning pages. Evan, homeless and abused, evokes empathy while Tal, movie-star-hot and earnest, makes Anne swoon. Uncovering the guys' hidden connections to Anne supplies a final surge of adrenaline in the final pages. A believable teen narrative voice with touches of insecurity and humor compensates for a somewhat far-fetched plot and resolution. (Fiction. 12 & up)

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.15(w) x 8.06(h) x 0.61(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

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Read an Excerpt


On the far side of Midland Park, which overlooks a field of cornstalk stubble half buried in snow, I lean against a boulder. Its edges jab my back. I wonder if I've misplaced my brain—no, whether I've ever had one.
How could I have been so stupid?
I take the letter from my jacket pocket. It feels crisp in the dark, a little warm from my body. I can't see it. Don't need to. My mind zigzags through every line like a crazy freeway driver.
This is my first letter. Ever. On paper, that is. Everyone e-mails or text messages. Even my grandma Mim, who has no idea how to turn on a computer or cell phone, knows that. But this letter, the one that changes everything? I'm not ready for it.
The wind comes up. I shiver.

Then . . .
Like the far-off rumble of a train before the whistle sounds, a little crack in the wall of my memory threatens to break wide open. I see an image of a snake. Car headlights. A man's creepy face. The words "You'll be sorry, bitch!"
As fast as one picture flies into my mind, I push it away. Take a deep breath.
What do they mean, these fragments that flash too close and terrify me?
I look up. Watch the moon come out from behind thick clouds. Unfolding the letter from my mother, I flip on my pen flashlight. I've read only half of it so far. But I start over again. It can't be true.
Can it?

Believe me, Anne. I never meant to hurt you. You have to understand that before you read on. . . .
"Mom," I whisper, drawing my fingers over each side of the smooth white pages that feel like shark's teeth, "where are you?"


Two months earlier my life in Centerville had been normal. For me, that is. School, band, best friend, mother, grandparents, black and white cat. Our home, an old two-story of gray stone with a guest cottage, sat back from the road, hidden behind an orchard of crab apple trees. It had probably been an awesome house at one time, but before Mom bought it, no one had lived in it for years.
I tried to talk her out of moving to Centerville. About as pointless as attempting to slow down a tornado. We had already left three cities before that. Every new place was the same: alien faces and classrooms. Lunch alone. Eventually I'd find a friend or two. Then Mom would fold up the tent, and away we'd all go again.
To add to the misery, I was short and fat, freckled, redheaded, and disturbingly shy. Gramps entertained me by teaching me card games and every song he knew. We played chess. After a while I won a few matches. He called me Champ after that.
Sometimes I sat on the porch swing and practiced Beastie Boy, my silver baritone with the dent in the side, until my lips swelled and went numb. Or until Zorro, my cat, started yowling.
Sometimes I read.
Or waited for Mom.
Who was always, always gone.
For the first three years in Centerville, Mim—real name Miriam—and Gramps stayed in the guest cottage but took care of me in the stone house while Mom traveled. But they had always wanted a place of their own. So when I turned fifteen, they bought themselves a small home a block away with pale green siding and black shutters. Gramps grew tomatoes in the back. Mim made raspberry and blackberry jam from the bushes that lined one side of their lot.
The inside I'd describe as having a gray-blue theme with lots and lots of doilies, flowered pillows, curtains. The kitchen, though, had bright yellow wallpaper full of arrogant red and green roosters.

Some say Centerville is the kind of quiet rural town people dream of moving to. Peaceful compared to the city's noisy traffic and living practically on top of your neighbors. Worrying about crime, too. Centerville. Comfortable and familiar, like recognizing almost everyone in town.
Other things make it nice. Enormous trees touching branches over rows of streets that spread out straight and flat as a graph-paper grid. Quiet summer nights except for the sound of crickets. Breezes bringing in the sweet smell of mown hay—a little manure along with it, but you get used to that—weirder yet, even like it sometimes. One mile in any direction and you're on a dirt road pulling up to a barn. To the south, you can sit on the edge of Lake Willow and watch long-legged birds wade in the rushes. To the north is the Centerville mall.
I didn't consciously see the town as this idyllic little refuge from the city. Only a place that I had finally come to think of as my real home.
In Centerville, shopkeepers on Main Street called customers by their first names. Homeowners left their doors unlocked. Everyone trusted each other. That is, except my mother. One of the first things she did when we moved into the stone house was to install an elaborate alarm system.
That should have been the first clue.
But I was only twelve and just a lonely kid in a strange new place.
Until the autumn I turned seventeen, I didn't realize nightmares can visit small towns and the people who live there.
People like me.

I did find a friend. You know how it is. Sometimes people click. Her name was Bianca Colon, Co-lone, not the intestinal pronunciation, she was quick to point out. From day one in seventh grade when Bianca, big-boned, skinny, frizzy-haired, said hi with her wider-than-wide grin, she and I clicked. My best friend forever.
Maybe I had come from the city. But I caught on early that new kids in a small town like Centerville stuck out (like me). Some fit in right away. Some didn't (like me). The new and uncool—translation: 1. uncute, 2. unathletic, 3. untrendy, 4. unoutgoing—faded into the cornfields fast. Guess that happens everywhere. Except for the cornfields part.

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