McHugh’s gripping debut focuses on Jennifer Scarborough, who has been grooming her daughter, Abby, for media stardom for nearly 10 years. Since Abby was four, she has been photographed, videoed, and packaged under the name Chloe Cates in Jennifer’s popular blog, CC and Me. Jennifer, who cherishes her identity as a blogger and entrepreneur, won’t let anyone stand in the way of her dreams for her daughter—not even the girl herself. Meanwhile, 13-year-old Abby writes in her journal: “Everybody knows CC Spectacular, but Abby Scarborough doesn’t exist, not on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat—nowhere that counts... Who cares about me when Chloe is the star?” Chloe’s subsequent disappearance is national news, and the internet is fueled with viral hashtags like #CatchChloeCates trending on every major platform. Emilina Stone, the detective with the Children and Family Services Unit in Albany, N.Y., who’s assigned the case, declines to reveal to her superiors that she and Jennifer were childhood friends. Chapters told from multiple perspectives skillfully tease out the characters’ respective secrets to reveal the rage lurking beneath their smiling faces. McHugh is off to a strong start. Agent: Anne Tibbets, Donald Maass Literary. (Jan.)
McHugh’s debut tackles an age-old question: What’s a mother to do when her daughter, who’s been the star of her obsessively curated mommy vlog for nearly 10 years, disappears?
Thirteen-year-old Chloe Cates, whom the offline world knows as Abigail Scarborough, is the creation of Jennifer Cates, nee Jen Groff, whose online production of “CC and Me,” nourished by commercial tie-ins and Jennifer’s boundless appetite for grooming her daughter for stardom, has finally been generating enough income to surpass Jackson Scarborough’s salary as associate director of his Albany firm’s marketing team. Even before she vanishes from her bedroom one night, leaving her window open and her cellphone behind, Chloe’s carefully fictionalized life has been built on papering over her constant resentment of the stage mother from hell. And that’s not the only tension that bubbles beneath the domestic surface. Chloe’s older brother, JJ, has set her up with her own social media accounts as Abigail. Abby’s met a boy online who knows nothing of her avatar. Jackson has skeletons in his own closet. Even Emilina Stone, the police detective assigned to the case, is the last person in the world Jennifer wants to see because the two of them share knowledge of a guilty secret that goes back to their own school days, gradually revealed in an obligatory series of flashbacks. McHugh manages this tangle of subplots with practiced efficiency, quickening the pace of dramatic, if not exactly surprising, revelations till the final pages.
Never remotely plausible or even original, but a tale guaranteed to keep genre fans up till dawn.
"A thriller for our social-media obsessed times"
"Full of disturbing secrets, a supremely dysfunctional family and an unapologetically unlikeable protagonist, McHugh raises important questions around what parents should be allowed to post about their children on social media. Scratch the shiny surface of this perfect family and you’ll see the dark secrets lurking beneath the glitter. A smart and textured thriller."
"Fast-paced and brimming with secrets to unspool, Mandy McHugh's razor sharp debut explores the dark side of internet fame and is as addictive as social media itself. A refreshingly original read that will have you rethinking what's behind those carefully curated online personas."
"This is a promising debut on a timely topic that might seem unbelievable save the recent headlines about the ruinous life of Britney Spears and the never-ending list of child stars and their misfortunes."
"In the way that we constantly check our retweets or shamelessly devour the latest social media scandal, I compulsively devoured Chloe Cates Is Missing. With characters you love to hate, this novel is Drama with a capital D—and is utterly terrifying in its snapshot of our selfie society’s obsession with popularity and perception."
"McHugh weaves these stories together seamlessly in an of-the-moment thriller that will leave you guessing what the truth is until the final page. A terrific debut!"
"From the timely social media relevance, to the constant tension, to the tightly weaved plot, this one doesn’t let go until delivering an ending that will leave your mouth hanging open. With chilling prose and an atmospheric setting, I’m already looking forward to her next."
"Mandy McHugh delightfully claws away the glitter to reveal the darkness and dysfunction roiling beneath the surface of a seemingly perfect family. Everyone has a secret they’re desperate to hide, everyone is lying, and it’s great fun (can I call murder fun?) to fit the shifting pieces together. A spectacular debut from a promising writer."
"It’s a mommy blog gone terribly wrong in this captivating debut from Mandy McHugh. CHLOE CATES IS MISSING has everything I want in a domestic thriller: propulsive storytelling, razor-sharp prose, disturbing behavior, explosive secrets, and a uniquely dysfunctional family. Settle in for this stunner; once you start reading, you won’t be able to stop."