Girl Last Seen is the debut novel by Nina Laurin, released June of 2017.
Laine was kidnapped at ten and dumped on the side of the highway three years later. Thirteen, pregnant, traumatized, and worst of all, unable to identify her attacker to bring him to justice, Laine struggled to cope with her baby being taken from her and the ever-looming threat of the monster still out there. Would he come back for her? Would he find another girl to replace her? And if he did, would it be her fault for not being able to stop him?
Fast forward to today, and Laine has spent the past ten years of her life hanging on by a thread. She numbs herself to the trauma with pills and alcohol. She works two jobs to afford her tiny apartment, and she obsesses over missing persons reports. One day, ten-year-old Olivia Shaw’s face grips Laine from a missing person poster, and she knows it in her gut: this little girl, the spitting image of Laine herself 13 years prior, was taken by the same man. Is there some forgotten scrap of detail that can help her save Olivia? Will trying to remember totally destroy her?
Girl Last Seen was an interesting read, if a bit unpolished. The fact that it was a debut novel showed through, in my opinion, but it was a relatively solid attempt. The story is gritty and dark; Laine felt real to me, if incredibly frustrating. Nina Laurin is not worried about making her protagonist likable. Laine is exactly the kind of mess one would expect after the childhood trauma she endured and the lack of proper support that followed it. She has unhealthy coping mechanisms, a fear of letting anyone get too close, and an out of proportion sense of guilt over things out of her control, in particular the actions of her attacker due to her inability to lead the police to him. She felt a bit like a Gillian Flynn heroine to me, and, despite her many flaws, I felt for her.
That being said, the plot was a bit predictable. This doesn’t always bother me, but in a mystery/thriller book, it’s a cardinal sin. With certain plot elements, I genuinely couldn’t tell if Laurin was trying and failing to shock the reader, or if she was just trying to portray Laine as too much of a mess to see the obvious right in front of her face. Either way, it took some of the suspense out of a book where the suspense was a major selling point.
My overall impression of this book was that it was just okay. There seems to be enough potential there that I’m not at all put off of Nina Laurin’s work, however. She has a new book coming out next month, What My Sister Knew, and the reviews so far seem to be more favorable on average. I look forward to seeing how she’s grown as a writer with the new book.