Monthly Archives: July 2021

WHEN THE STARS GO DARK

“Trust issues, attachment trouble, identity problems, feelings of emptiness, isolation, alienation, and despair—cracks in the soul that can’t be mended. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it. How anyone with a hole inside them will search on and on, sometimes all their lives, for ways to fill it. Paula McLain, When the Stars Go Dark

San Francisco Detective Anna Hart  knows about tragedy. As a specialist in finding missing persons, she has seen it written on the faces of desperate families for years.  But now, she has personally seen how fast tragedy can rip apart a marriage and destroy one’s center of gravity. The scars of a lonely and isolated childhood in the foster care system have left her bereft of the ability to process her grief. The reader feels her pain but is left in the dark about the facts of the recent cause until nearly the end of the book.

Anna does what many folks do when troubled. They return to a childhood sanctuary where the world seemed safe. She needs a timeout from her grief and to process what caused the emotional wreckage of her splintered marriage. For Anna, that place is Mendocino, California where her last and most caring foster father introduced her to the Mendocino National Forest. A wilderness where she learned survival skills in a world of natural beauty.  A place of escape and solace. A place to think free of the swirl of daily life.

Upon reaching Mendocino, Anna doesn’t find the peace that Dorothy found returning to Kansas and Auntie Em. Your troubles travel with you, old troubles lay waiting for your return, and new ones greet you. She’s learned several of her old high school friends still live in the area. As a matter of fact, one of them, is now the sheriff.

When Anna learns a local teenager, Cameron, is missing, she can’t stop herself from becoming involved in the search.  Diving headlong into the new case, memories of the murder of a childhood friend surface. In an age before the internet and wide-spread cell phone coverage, the investigative team learns of other missing girls.

Was Cameron the victim of a serial killer or an isolated case? Anna’s experiences in locating missing children and her methodology of examining what dynamic made each victim a target clashes with the sheriff’s concept of on the ground crime solving.

The tempo of the plot ricochets through Anna’s past and her present day conflicts. It gets messy and hard to follow at times, creating the author’s purpose of identifying how one’s past can influence one’s present and future. Things seen in retrospect can influence the future for the better.

I had a difficult time giving this book a four star rating at first. Something seemed odd about Anna and the author’s choice to spend so much time in Anna’s childhood and her life in foster care. After reading the author’s notes at the back of the book, I had a better understanding of the mental confusion. Thus, I deliberately chose the opening quote in my review from When the Stars Go Dark.

It could have appeared in the author’s 2003 memoir growing up as an abused foster child, Like Family: Growing Up In Other People’s Houses. I would advise readers to better understand how the author inserted her parts of her personal story into the novel to read the author’s note in the back of the book before start When the Stars Go Dark. Better yet, read the very well written memoir, Like Family to better understand life trapped in a foster care environment.

“Trust issues, attachment trouble, identity problems, feelings of emptiness, isolation, alienation, and despair—cracks in the soul that can’t be mended. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it. How anyone with a hole inside them will search on and on, sometimes all their lives, for ways to fill it. Paula McLain, When the Stars Go Dark

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