Tom Perotta’s Little Children meets Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones in this suspenseful and beautifully wrought story of a seventeen-year-old girl who vanishes on the eve of her departure for college, as told through the alternating perspectives of her neighbors.
What happened to Linsey Hart? When the Cornell-bound teenager disappears into the steamy blue of a late-summer morning, her quiet neighborhood is left to pick apart the threads of their own lives and assumptions.
Linsey’s neighbors are just ordinary people—but even ordinary people can keep terrible secrets hidden close. There’s Linsey’s mother, Abigail, whose door-to-door searching makes her social-outcast status painfully obvious; Mr. Leonard, the quiet, retired piano teacher with insomnia, who saw Linsey leave; Reeva, the queen bee of a clique of mothers, now obsessed with a secret interest; Timmy, Linsey’s lovelorn ex-boyfriend; and George, an eleven-year-old loner who is determined to find out what happened to his missing neighbor.
As the days of Linsey’s absence tick by, dread and hope threaten to tear a community apart. This luminous new novel by the acclaimed author of The Orphan Sister explores coming of age in the shadows of a suburban life, and what is revealed when the light suddenly shines in. . . .
Gwendolen Gross is the author of five critically acclaimed novels, including The Orphan Sister and The Other Mother. She has worked with porcupines and kinkajous as a science demonstrator, on mountain tops as a naturalist, as an editor, opera singer, writing instructor, and mom. She lives in Northern New Jersey with her husband, daughter, and son.
What People are Saying About This
Marisa de los Santos
“Engaging and sentence-perfect, wonderful in so many ways, but I love it best for its vibrant, emotionally complex main character Clementine. I felt so entirely with her, as she loves those around her with both devotion and complexity and as she struggles to achieve a delicate balance between belonging to others and being herself.”
award-winning author of Ghost on Black Mountain - Ann Hite
“Gwendolen Gross creates characters so familiar they could live next door. Her new novel, When She Was Gone, reflects a perfect balance of darkness and intricate struggles, woven together with hope and redemption. Abigail, Reeva, and Mr. Leonard’s voices form some of the most powerful and beautiful language I’ve read in quite a while. Mix in a nail-biting plot and you have one outstanding read.”
Allison Winn Scotch
“With exquisite language and an empathetic ear, Gwendolen Gross paints a gorgeous portrait of life, love, loss and sisterhood, and forces you to ask yourself: how far will you go for your family and what secrets can shatter even that bond? The Orphan Sister will linger long after you’ve turned the final page.”
Joanna Smith Rakoff
“This charming portrait of an impossibly gorgeous and gifted family is something rare: a delightful confection, filled with humor and warmth, that also probes the complex nature of identity, the vagaries of romantic and filial love, and the materialism inherent in contemporary American culture.
author of The Next Time You See Me - Holly Goddard Jones
"Gwendolen Gross uses the disappearance of a young woman to tell the story of a community in crisis, and her gaze is both unflinching and surprisingly tender. When She Was Gone is a dark but elegantly crafted book, the tension building toward a climax that promises redemption to its wayward characters.
author of The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D - Nichole Bernier
“What happens behind the closed doors of a neighborhood, and beyond the facades of the people who live there? Gwendolen Gross has the sharp insight of a documentarian, turning her lens on each house of a frightened town after a college-bound girl goes missing. Full of heart but free of sentimentality, When She Was Gone shows the sinews of belonging and not-belonging that bind a community.”
"Breathtakingly original. A haunting exploration of love, loyalty, sisters, hope, and the ties that bind us together—and make the ground tremble beneath us when they break. I loved, loved, loved this novel.
This reading group guide for When She Was Gone includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
When seventeen-year-old Linsey Hart goes missing just days before her scheduled departure for college, a typically quiet New Jersey neighborhood is left peeking out windows and into backyards for clues. There’s Linsey’s mother, Abigail, whose door-to-door searching makes her social outcast status painfully obvious; stay-at-home mom Reeva, whose primary concern is covering up the affair she’s been having with the Starbucks barista; Mr. Leonard, a reclusive retired piano teacher—and the last person to see Linsey alive; George, an eleven-year-old gifted loner who is determined to find out what happened to Linsey; and Timmy, Linsey’s ex-boyfriend, who is left grieving as he embarks on his own college career.
With a sly humor and ultimate optimism, the stories of this small town converge in unexpected ways, painting a complex and illuminating portrait of a community moved by grief, devoured by suspicion, and consumed by secrecy.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. The neighborhood in the novel is one built on secrets; every character seems to have a secret to hide. How do the secrets the characters hold influence their relationships with others?
2. Through her memories, we learn that the loss of their two-week-old son is what drives Abigail into depression and her and Joe apart. Though her interactions with Joe are limited, what information do you gather about him?
3. Prior to her disappearance, how is Linsey viewed by those around her: Her mom? Her brothers? Reeva? Timmy? Which of these people do you think Linsey would feel viewed her in the way she wanted to be viewed?
4. Reeva and Jordan’s affair is a source of excitement and guilt for Reeva. What first attracts her to Jordan, despite his disheveled appearance and home? How does her revelation about Jordan’s age cause her to see their tryst in a new light?
5. On pages 77–78, we get a glimpse of the Group, Reeva’s gaggle of housewives who come together to discuss playdates and car pool logistics—or, really, to trade gossip and make passive-aggressive comments about one another. How would you describe the women in the group? Why do you think Reeva invites them into her home; why do you think she cares so much what they think?
6. What did you learn about Charlie and Reeva on the day Charlie stays home from work (pg. 205–207)? What do Reeva’s internal thoughts about Charlie reveal about their relationship and about herself?
7. Compare and contrast Toby’s and Cody’s reactions to Linsey’s disappearance. Do you think one of them deals with his feelings better than the other?
8. “In this town, people were very small about difference, about seeking otherness” (pg. 67). In this passage, Timmy reflects on how Geo is treated by the neighborhood as compared to how he might be treated in a larger-minded, more accepting place. Are there characters in the novel other than Geo who you feel are mistreated by the community because of their “otherness”?
9. On page 50, Geo references “Mending Wall,” a poem by Robert Frost, as he considers the two fences between his property and the Steins’. Read the poem, found at http://www.bartleby.com/104/64.html, and consider its meaning. Do you see any connection between Frost’s poem and the neighborhood in the novel? Is there a particular line that resonates with you, or that you feel reflects a particular character?
10. Abigail and Timmy avoid each other for days after Linsey’s disappearance. Why do you think that is; what do you think they were feeling that kept them from confronting each other? Guilt? Fear? A different emotion? Ultimately, what leads Timmy to finally walk up to Abigail’s doorstep and talk with her?
11. When Abigail is finally reunited with her lost daughter, Linsey is described as “waiting for her mother the way she’d waited after kindergarten, holding herself together, waiting to be collected” (pg. 266). As Abigail rushes to “collect” her, what emotions do you think she is feeling? How do you suspect Linsey has changed from the beginning of her journey? How has Abigail changed?
12. Jordan and Mr. Leonard’s unlikely friendship is based on their mutual love of music. Mr. Leonard offers Jordan his musical mentorship; what does Jordan offer him in return? How do the themes of music—listening and making—weigh in the novel?
13. The novel both opens and closes with Mr. Leonard— opening on a chapter from his perspective, and closing at his memorial service. Why do you think the author chose Mr. Leonard as the character holding the novel together in this way?
14. Throughout the novel, a narrator offers readers a detailed glimpse into each of the characters’ houses. What do you think their homes say about them? Was there a particular home that you felt reflected the character who lived within it the most?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Geo’s photographs of those around him gives him a view of the neighborhood others do not have; through photography and collage-making, he can decipher the “sameness and difference” others miss (pg. 45). Try to see things from Geo’s point of view: Before your book club discussion, ask each member to carry a camera with them for a day, taking pictures of the everyday places and people they might usually overlook. Then, at your discussion, consider the photographs: What do you see? Does anything in the pictures surprise you?
2. As Reeva prepares her home for the Group to arrive, she recalls Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story The Yellow Wallpaper, the tale of a woman who slowly goes mad while she’s locked in an upstairs bedroom by her husband. Find a copy of this short story, either online or in your local bookstore or library, and give it a read. Do you see any common themes in The Yellow Wallpaper and When She Was Gone? Does the narrator in the short story share any characteristics with the women narrators in the novel?
3. Two coffee shops are mentioned in the novel: the notorious Starbucks where Jordan works, and the Daily Grind. Do you have a favorite coffee shop in your town? Consider holding your book club discussion there for a change of scenery.
4. Gwendolen Gross is the author of multiple critically acclaimed novels. To learn more about Gwendolen and her books, visit her websites at www.gwendolengross.com and www.whenshewasgone.com or follow her on Twitter @GwendolenGross
When She Was Gone 3.2 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
It's almost time for the new school year to begin and Linsey Hart is about to go off to school at Cornell. Early one morning Linsey walks off and just disappears. Leaving behind her family and community to wonder and speculate what happened.
When She Was Gone opens up the doors to numerous households in Linsey's small suburban neighborhood and allows it's readers to see inside. As the neighborhood grapples with the young girls' disappearance, they are also struggling to keep their own secrets buried.
The story is told with numerous vantage points from her mother to a young boy who is an outcast, but who might just hold the answers in his collection of 'things'.
This isn't just a story about what happened to Linsey, but a story about what goes on behind closed doors of her neighborhood--uncensored. As the reader, we get to see everything they are really doing and thinking. Abigal's (Linsey's mother) whole world is turned upside down she can barely function and yet when she goes door to door to find out if her neighbors may have seen anything, one neighbor closes the door on her face. Gross really pulled down the veil and exposes some deep down truths.
I am definitely one who always wonders who are people really when I can't see them, so I really enjoyed getting the all access pass. During most of the book, I can't say I was really vested in any of the neighbors stories. For me the aspect that kept drawing me in further was the mystery of what really happened to Linsey. It was like the more I found out the less I really knew. Then at the end of the novel it felt like suddenly all those doors I had been peeping in were suddenly closed, I was once again shut out of their personal lives. I realized I'd been more connected to these characters than I thought.
I was completely hooked! There were a number of moments where I was reading along, while holding my breath! I am a huge fan of Gwendolen Gross's writing style--smart and precise. I highly recommened When She Was Gone!
More than 1 year ago
I read this book for my book club. Normally not a book I would have read on my own. Everyone story some how ties to the girl who is missing and eventually show the neighbors own secrets. I wouldn't really recommend it, but if you want to pass time, go for it.
More than 1 year ago
I like thrillers and mysteries so I couldn't get into this boo Maybe somebody else would enjoy it more
More than 1 year ago
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings
A new and interesting way to tell the story of a missing girl, by sharing the stories and the impact of her disappearance through the eyes of her neighbors; both young and old. Edited by starting each chapter by their address was unique, but at times confusing; I liked that this book shows how living in a neighborhood we overlap each other and come out of experiences with different viewpoints.
More than 1 year ago
Very disjointed and very hard to get through. Won't read her again.
More than 1 year ago
26 Sycamore Street is where Linsey Hart was before she disappeared in Gwendolen Gross’ latest novel, When She Was Gone.
Linsey Hart would be leaving her quiet New Jersey neighborhood to attend her first year at Cornell College in a few short days. However, there’s a problem. She’s gone missing. The last person to see her alive was her eccentric neighbor Mr. Leonard—former music teacher who lives at 24 Sycamore Street. Chronic insomnia was as much a curse as a gift for Leonard given the endless hours he spent awake and completely enrapt in his ongoing ritual of composing music. He was uncertain whether he heard Linsey whispering into her phone from the safety of her front porch rocker the night before or maybe it was the voices inside his own head…
In the early morning dawn the next day and long before respectable small town communities embrace the new day dawning, Linsey quietly slipped out the front door of her 26 Sycamore home; taped her note to the mailbox and continued down the steps. As she adjusted the strap to her duffle, she didn’t bother to look back as she placed one foot in front of the other. Perhaps if she had, she would have noticed the breeze that kicked up and did not subside until it released her note taped to the box. Nobody was there to witness its departure as it cascaded down to the porch below and effortlessly slipped through the crack before landing in its final resting place in the foundation below.
Maybe Linsey’s decision to go missing was because her mother, Abigail, spent way too much time planning every facet of her life—the most recent implementation being the insistence Linsey break up with her boyfriend Timmy. There was no point for the two of them to continue seeing each other. Timmy was headed to California for college while Linsey would remain on the East Coast. Abigail rationalized her mandate further by insisting Linsey was too young for an ever after union at this juncture in her young life. The reality that Linsey has gone missing accelerates when Abigail’s forty-something, over-sexed housewife/mother and neighbor, Helena, at 6 ½ Sycamore Street enlightens her with the fact Linsey never showed up for her summer babysitting gig that particular date. If only that note hadn’t slipped between the cracks on the porch hours earlier.
Ms. Gross was very consistent in painting clear images with her words as she introduced each of her characters who lived on Sycamore Street. However, beyond that, Ms. Gross disallowed the reader to engage and formulate his or her own mood because she overcompensated with an abundance of analogous and metaphorical depictions. This is not meant to be a slight as much as an observation. Generally speaking, one of the more prominent pleasures I look forward to when reading a good story is to have the opportunity to formulate my own opinion based on the scene or situation played out across the pages. It entices me to turn the pages to find out what happens next. There is no question Ms. Gross was directing her audience. However, she controlled too much of the story with her analogies and metaphors which disallowed this reader to wonder what would potentially happen next. However, I will give her credit for her portrayal of the relationship between mother, Abigail and daughter, Linsey. I have a ‘baby’ on her way to college this year. It’s a monumental time in a mother and daughter’s life and I think Ms. Gross was very connected in not only conveying the imminent change on her two characters’ horizons but what that would mean for both women as well.
Quill says: When She Was Gone is a solid depiction of the contrasts between belonging (or not) with an ending that is far from predictable.
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