Book Review: Girl Forgotten by April Henry

In April Henry's Girl Forgotten, true-crime fan Piper Gray starts a podcast investigating a seventeen-year-old cold case. The killer is still out there, and Piper must uncover their identity before they silence her forever. Here's Doreen Sheridan's review!

When Piper Gray is forced to move in with her father, stepmother and step-siblings right before her senior year of high school, she’s realistic enough to expect a lot of adjustments. She’d grown up poor in California after all, the daughter of a woman too proud to take what she saw as handouts from her ex. Even as Piper is getting used to her new family and home in Oregon—where her dad and his wife’s successful careers as lawyers provide them with an income far exceeding Piper’s own experience—she’s trying to figure out her new school, where all seniors are expected to complete a year-long passion project as part of getting ready for college.

Piper honestly isn’t even sure what she’s passionate about, until she remembers not only a podcast that she faithfully listens to but also a weird story she’d stumbled across while wandering around town not too long ago. Her interest in true crime had led her to do a little research on an odd grave marker she’d encountered shortly before the school year began. Piper soon learned that local teenager Layla Trello had been shot to death almost seventeen years earlier. The case remains unsolved. Perhaps, Piper thinks, if she starts a podcast on the subject, she might be able to shake loose people’s memories and unearth some clues as to what really happened all that time ago.

Of course, it would help if Piper had the slightest idea how to build a podcast. To begin, she turns to her own favorite show, taking notes on both it and the host’s style:

I listen to more Dead, Deader, Deadest but with completely different ears. It must be like how an architect looks at a building and sees the structure’s details. […]


She always starts with the crime. That’s the hook. Then she moves back in time to talk about the victim. After that, she discusses various suspects. Toward the end, Kelley touches on some possibly related crimes as well as various theories about what happened. Along the way she interviews friends, enemies, and law enforcement. But she’s Kelley McBain, and I’m just me, a high school student. Who will even want to talk to me?

Piper’s teacher-advisor greenlights the project but recommends she consult with Jonas Shortridge, another senior who’s also producing a podcast, though his is about sports. Jonas is prickly but knows that mentoring Piper will boost his own college transcripts, so he guides her through the setup process willingly enough. As they work together, their defenses thaw, even if Jonas still has reservations about turning the death of a real person into what’s essentially voyeuristic entertainment.

Piper, of course, doesn’t see it that way, but she’s decidedly in the minority. In fairness, she does expect to get pushback from people who don’t want their own dirty laundry aired in her pursuit of the truth. But when Layla’s sister confronts her about what she’s doing, Piper’s determination falters:

I try to make my voice strong, but it comes out wispy. “Do you really think it’s better Layla is forgotten and her killer’s free?”


Aubrey draws herself up until she looms over me. “Oh like you’re going to solve it by rehashing years-old news stories. If the police couldn’t find the killer back then, some teenager is not going to solve it now. You’re just turning our family’s tragedy into a commodity.” She speaks through gritted teeth. “You’ve started it all up again. Ripped the scabs off. Turned scars back into bleeding wounds.”

Despite the resistance, Piper finds support from unexpected corners. But when someone else dies, likely due to her unearthing buried secrets, will she be able to persevere, both mentally and emotionally? And what will she do when it looks like someone wants to silence her for good?

Girl Forgotten is a solid Young Adult mystery that will likely serve as a great entry point for readers looking to explore the thriller genre. Piper’s journey not only through solving the case but also through navigating her own personal pain and turmoil are handled with intelligence and empathy. The mechanics of creating a podcast are also demystified for those of us readers unfamiliar with the process, as the ethics of true crime as entertainment are sensitively considered. This is a fast read that packs a lot into its pages, and is a perfect gateway book for readers starting their journey in contemporary mysteries and thrillers.

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