Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Finding Melissa by Cora Taylor

Life for Clarice Warren has never been the same since the disappearance of her little sister, Melissa during a camping trip to the North Thompson River, twelve years ago. Unable to resolve the disappearance, Clarice's mom became obsessed with missing children and blamed both her father and Clarice. Eventually the strain led to Clarice's parents divorcing and her father remarrying and starting a new family. Clarice's counsellor at school has suggested that she keep a journal. She suspects that Clarice has internalized her guilt about her sister's disappearance and this is causing her to act out.

When Clarice rethinks the events of Melissa's disappearance that night many years ago, she comes to a startling revelation: she and Melissa snuck out of the tent to go to a special hideout but that Claire returned to the tent alone. She remembers the campground being illuminated with what must have been car headlights. Unsure of what to do, Claire keeps this revelation a secret.

Meanwhile in northern Alberta, in the town of Tomahawk, fourteen year old Leesa Weldon still suffers from nightmares. She lives with her Aunt Rosie and she's been told that her father brought her here years ago. This summer Leesa is going to be a live-in babysitter for Rhonda and Peter Friesen and their two children, Agnetha (Aggie) and Dawson. Then unexpectedly, Leesa's father, whose been in jail, gets released and shows up at Aunt Rosie's home. Without knowing why, Leesa is completely creeped out by this man who frightens her beyond understanding.

The third narrator in the story, Hector (Heck) Larkin, is a pedophile and convict who pretends he's Rosie's "father". His narration fills in the reader on what exactly happened that night twelve years earlier and what his future plans are for Leesa. His friend Turk who is still in jail will be helping Heck as soon as he gets released. In a strange twist that brings together Clarice's world with that of Leesa, it turns out that Clarice's friend, Shelby, has been corresponding with a guy online. That guy is Turk who reveals to Shelby in an email that his friend had kidnapped a girl from a campground in Northern B.C. years ago. It is this piece of information that pushes Clarice to finally tell her secret to an adult. From this point on, Taylor weaves together the narratives that builds to a suspenseful, but somewhat predictable conclusion.

Finding Melissa is a short novel that is sure to capture the interest of reluctant readers. Taylor has created four unique characters whom the story centers around. Clarice is the forgotten daughter, who in some ways is just as lost as her sister Melissa. With her mother's life revolving around solving Melissa's disappearance, no one seems to have recognized the effect this tragedy has had on Clarice.  Leesa has grown into a strong, self-sufficient teenager, who tries to follow her Aunt Rosie's advice and have some spunk - that is to be assertive when necessary. Heck is a cruel man who likes little girls, a thief and a drug dealer, impulsive and completely lacking a conscience. Aunt Rosie is a generous, kind woman whose main weakness is her brother Heck, whose true nature she can't seem to accept.

Readers may be confused by the timeline given in the novel. The story opens with three pages featuring "newspaper clippings" of the kidnapping which was said to have occurred in 1990. The date of Clarice's diary entries are supposed to be twelve years after the kidnapping but are dated 2012. Apparently, Taylor began working on this story in the early 2000's and so the kidnapping date was set as 1990. However, years later she picked up the drafts and finally finished them, but the date on the newspaper clippings was not changed. For the time line to make sense, the newspaper clippings should be dated 2000.

Cora Taylor is the author of fourteen books. She was born in Saskatchewan but now alternates her time between Alberta, Ontario and Florida.

Book Details:
Finding Melissa by Cora Taylor
Markham ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited 2014
183 pp.

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