"They found her. I shake my head, because there's something weird about found. You find sweaters in the park. Or lost dogs. Found is like Wendy's not a person. Not a living ...
My mom is crying. That tells me what found means. Why Wendy isn't a person anymore. That Wendy is dead."
The Girl In The Park is a gripping murder mystery told in the voice of schoolgirl, Rain Donovan, over a period of twelve days, after the murder of her classmate, Wendy Geller.
Rain lives with her opera singer mother in a colourfully decorated apartment. She wakes up the morning after Karina Burrough's party to phone call from her former best friend's mother who asks Rain if she's heard from her daughter, Wendy Geller. But Rain left the part early, when she saw that things were going to go bad, and she has no idea what happened to Wendy.
Rain and Wendy Geller use to be best friends in grade nine, almost two years ago. At that time both Rain and Wendy were new to the exclusive school, Alcott, and were outsiders. Alcott is an exclusive school where everyone's parent is a Somebody. Rain's mother is a well known opera singer, but Rain with her cleft palate and her poor pronunciation will always be an outsider in a school that doesn't tolerate difference or imperfection. For Wendy, whose single mother has no significant social status, making friends was hard. Alcott is a school where making friends is difficult and where there is a pecking order. So Rain advised Wendy to start with the girlfriends of the top girls and work her way up.
Wendy decided that she would work her way up to the top of the school's social status, by being a "bad girl" and stealing other girls' boyfriends. Although Wendy wasn't especially pretty, she had a lot of energy and a wonderful smile. However, Rain soon learns that Wendy becomes a different person when she parties - more like the girls who make fun of her. It was this trait that made Rain sever her friendship with Wendy.
At Karina's party, it was bad boy, Nico Phelps, Wendy was after. Wendy was crazy for Nico but he was dating Sasha Meloni, a ballet dancer, and girl at the top of the social ladder at Alcott. Wendy was so crazy for Nico that she put up a video on facebook saying she was going to get him. Nico was danger and he'd been in trouble and maybe that was part of the attraction for Wendy.
When a newspaper article suggests Wendy's hard partying lifestyle was to blame for her death, Rain realizes that she must speak up for Wendy. This injustice leads Rain to feel that she might be able to help police solve the mystery of Wendy's murder. Despite the loss of her friendship with Wendy, Rain remembers that it was she who told Rain that despite her speech problems, she should speak up, that she "might have something to say". Knowing what it's like at Alcott, and that Wendy was intent upon hooking up with Nico, Rain does not believe that Wendy was killed by some random person in the park.
So she sets out to try to find out from her classmates just what happened that night at the party. How did Wendy end up in the park? Did Wendy leave with Nico? Did Nico kill her or was someone else involved?
As she talks to the people Wendy partied with, and her own classmates, Rain becomes convinced that Nico is the prime suspect. But is she biased against Nico because of a cruel incident that occurred between the two of them years ago?
The Girl in the Park is a well written story that keeps the reader guessing until almost the very end. The plot twists and turns, with Fredericks leaving hints here and there. As the book moves on however, some of these clues do become obvious but nonetheless Fredericks is successful in maintaining the mystery to the final revelation.
Rain is very authentic as a young teen struggling to figure out who she is and trying hard not to be labelled by her speech problems. Fredericks does a great job portraying life in high school with its cliques, moments of kindness juxtaposed with cruelty. Wendy's murder forever changes Rain. She is no longer the girl afraid to speak. She does have something to say when she finally puts the pieces of the puzzle together and solves Wendy's murder.
"As I finish and the applause starts, I don't want to say farewell to Wendy. But I have to. She's gone. And with her, a scared little girl who never said what she thought or felt. I'll miss that girl, too. Even though I"m glad not to be her anymore."
I especially liked how the author portrayed the real Wendy early on in the novel, bracing us for the way the media and some of her classmates would distill her character down to a person who "deserved" what happened to her.
My one complaint against this novel is the brief description of a sex act at the beginning of the book, that in my opinion, mars this novel. It is unnecessary, especially given the fact that we soon come to understand through other characters, that Wendy's way of climbing the social ladder at school was to mess with other girl's boyfriends. It's true that elements of society today can be incredibly crass, but I'm not convinced that this has to necessarily pass over into our art and literature.
Older teens who love murder mysteries will enjoy The Girl In The Park.
The Girl In The Park by Mariah Fredericks
Schwartz & Wade Books 2012