I'm Not Missing by Carrie Fountain; Flatiron Books, 326 pages ($18.99) Ages 14 and up.
This fine debut novel by poet Carrie Fountain, set in Las Cruces, N.M., is a poignant exploration of love, loss, friendship, betrayal and identity.
In the middle of their senior year of high school, Miranda Black's best friend Syd disappears, leaving behind only a cryptic note: "I'm gone. I'm not missing."
Miranda blames herself: she and Syd had a huge fight the night Syd disappeared. Miranda knows Syd had poured all her efforts into being the top student at their high school and was awaiting her acceptance to Stanford. How could she skip town? Or is she dead?
Fountain offers compelling portraits of best friends who are complete opposites, drawn to each other by parental abandonment. Introvert Miranda lives with her dad, an astrophysicist; her mother, a native of Mexico, left years before to join a religious cult. Extrovert Syd was also abandoned – by her alcoholic mother – and lives with her creepy father, her nasty stepmother and a stepbrother in a trailer. The girls have sworn to be blood sisters to each other. Miranda barely survived the humiliation of being stood up for junior prom by the boy she had a crush on. Syd was there for her – and found all kinds of inventive ways to torment Nick for his betrayal. With Syd gone, Miranda finds herself forced to emerge from her friend's shadow. She also finds herself falling for Nick.
When she finds Syd's cellphone, Miranda steps up her efforts to investigate Syd's disappearance. The trail leads her to an unexpected discovery and shocking truths about her best friend, as this poignant, well-crafted novel reveals itself to be a thrillingly intricate mystery with a terrible secret at its core.
This fine novel, set in 1970 in the fictional small town of Red Grove, Alabama, is a poignant personal story of a young girl struggling with universal adolescent issues of identity, friendship and peer pressure against a backdrop of political upheaval, lingering prejudice and overt racism in George Wallace's Alabama.
Sixth grader Lu Olivera just wants to get along with everyone but finds her old friends have gotten boy-crazy and some are making fun of her newly discovered interest in running track. Lu's parents, immigrants from Argentina, support the reelection campaign of incumbent moderate Gov. Albert Brewer, but many of Lu's classmates and their parents are all in for segregationist Wallace. In fact, many of her classmates - white and black students sit in different sections in class - have already announced their plan to leave their integrated public school for a white private school.
Lu is determined to improve her performance at track, and her friendship with Brenda, a black classmate, grows as they train together. Lu has a crush on a classmate, Sam, son of a pastor who has been an outspoken supporter of the civil rights movement. A friend invites her to attend a rally for George Wallace, but Lu is upset at the speeches and deeply regrets her attendance. Weaver does a wonderful job portraying the uneasy balancing act between Lu's struggle to do the right thing and her desire to stay on good terms with her longtime friends. But she also offers a vivid picture of adolescence in 1970 Alabama, the charged atmosphere at school, a shopping trip to find a birthday gift where the sales lady insults Brenda, the ugly scene Lu unwittingly creates at the birthday party when she irritates the birthday girl by playing table hockey with the girl's brother. Olivera, a native of Argentina who grew up in Alabama, offers a wonderfully vivid backdrop of the place and the era, including the music kids were listening to in the summer of 1970.