GOOD AS GONE by Amy Gentry
CBTB Rating: 4/5
The Verdict: not at all what I expected, in a good way
I’m not going to lie to you: I judged this crime book by its cover. With its neon yellow background and hot pink letters, this book reminded me of any number of flashy, edgy domestic thrillers (think LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE by Jessica Knoll). Couple its cover with its plot (missing girl returns home nearly a decade later; family questions her true identity), and I was expecting a fast-paced, twist-filled thrill ride designed to shock its readers as much as its shocking cover. Instead, what I got was a suspense novel brimming not with shock value, but with thoughtful insights into love, loss, and hope against all odds. This book is nothing I expected, and I was so pleased to be surprised.
Nearly a decade ago, 13-year old Julie was kidnapped from her home in the middle of the night. The only witness to her kidnapping was her younger sister, 8-year old Jane. The family was rocked by the tragedy, but managed to stick together through it. Then, one night nearly a decade later, the doorbell rings: Julie has come home. Overjoyed at Julie’s reappearance, the family begins trying to move forward from the horrific tragedy they have all endured… but Julie’s mom Anna is having doubts that she just can’t silence. Julie’s story doesn’t quite add up, and her behavior just isn’t right. Is this really Anna’s daughter? If not, who is this woman who has moved into her home, and what does she want from them?
This book’s premise alone is worthy of a read. But where GOOD AS GONE really shines is in the author’s nuanced exploration of the bonds tying family together—specifically, the often tumultuous and always unbreakable bond between mother and daughter. This sounds like it’s a story about Julie: her kidnapping, her return, and how she spent the years in between. But it’s really a story about Anna: a mother who survived a parent’s worst nightmare, and whose hope was ultimately rewarded with the return of her missing daughter, only to have it eroded by her doubts over Julie’s identity.
GOOD AS GONE is set in my former hometown of Houston, Texas, which made for an even more immersive reading experience for me. Gentry weaves Houston’s culture and landmarks inextricably throughout the story, and I was fascinated to watch fictional characters respond to some very true-to-life Houston experiences. Religion factors prominently in this story as well, with Gentry exploring both organized religion in the form of a Houston megachurch, and the skepticism of an academic through the character of Anna, who is a professor of English at a local college. While Gentry certainly portrays the megachurch phenomenon in an unfavorable light, she also illustrates how Anna’s personal beliefs (or lack thereof) can be deeply misguided. Rather than taking a stand on the pros or cons of organized religion, I felt that Gentry was examining how our own beliefs, no matter what those might be or not be, can be manipulated to serve our personal interests.
This story has been billed as suited for fans of GONE GIRL or THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, but I have to disagree. If you love domestic thrillers, check out BEHIND CLOSED DOORS and THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR. If, on the other hand, you love a measured and thought-provoking novel of suspense, with one eye on character study and one eye on a city’s conflicted culture, this might just be the next book for you.
For a behind-the-scenes glimpse into Gentry’s process of writing GOOD AS GONE, check out my interview with the author here.