Book Review: She’s Gone by David Bell
Seventeen year-old Hunter Gifford wakes up after Homecoming Night to find himself in the hospital, with no memory of how he got there or why. He’s suffering from a concussion, and the hospital’s security footage shows him wandering up to the building’s doors bloody and alone. But Hunter should have been with his girlfriend Chloe Summers, who has gone missing in the aftermath of the car accident they were both apparently in. Her car is subsequently found five miles away, crashed into a tree. Some of his blood is on the driver’s side, and some of Chloe’s on the passenger’s. That’s the only trace of her to be found.
Hunter, of course, becomes prime suspect in Chloe’s disappearance. He knows he could never hurt her, but has no recollection of anything from the night before. While his friends and family rally round him, other students at his high school are less kind. Perhaps most hurtful is the reaction from Chloe’s parents. Though Chloe’s dad Scott seems willing to take Hunter at his word, her mother Laura is infuriated by what she sees as Hunter’s refusal to cooperate with the police. She refuses to believe he genuinely can’t remember what happened, and she insists his inability to accurately relate what happened that night is a sign of wrongdoing. Worst of all, she’s ready to make this accusation as publicly and as often as necessary in her desperate search for her daughter.
Not knowing what else to do and stymied by his own uncooperative brain, Hunter decides to film videos asking for the public’s help. Unsurprisingly, this goes over poorly with every adult in his life, even Scott, who is tired of the useless, unwelcome attention from amateur media mavens, Hunter included:
“It doesn’t help,” [Scott] says, his voice getting louder. “It’s like you and those videos you’ve made. I’ve seen them. Everybody’s seen them. Laura’s watched them and is getting madder and madder. They don’t help. They just get people stirred up and angry. I never understood why you kids feel the need to share so much. Every damn thought you have goes online. I just don’t get it.”
While Hunter isn’t convinced his videos aren’t helping to prick the consciences or stir the memories of anyone with information about Chloe’s disappearance, he does agree they’re not working quickly enough. Driven to desperation by Chloe’s continuing absence and by the treatment he’s getting from the police and from suspicious townsfolk, Hunter decides to take matters into his own hands. With help from his sister Olivia and her girlfriend Gabriela, he sets out to search for the secret journal they know Chloe hid somewhere, in hopes it will contain clues to help them find her. But will the information Hunter uncovers only incriminate him further, as he slowly pieces together what really happened that fateful night?
This was a very well-plotted and multilayered Young Adult thriller that totally zigged when I thought it would zag. Hunter is a terrific and entirely believable protagonist. He might act rashly, but he never acts any more stupidly than the average desperate teenager might, and I was completely in his corner throughout.
It helps that David Bell takes such excellent pains to show how oblivious Hunter can be, and how relatively privileged he is compared to the women and minorities in his personal orbit. Crucially, however, Hunter learns as he goes. Here, he’s relating in one of his videos a lesson Chloe taught him after a strange girl suddenly inserted herself into a date they were having at the mall. Chloe acted like it was totally normal, sharing her food with the girl then walking her out to where the girl’s mom had been called to pick her up. Hunter was completely mystified and bemused by how Chloe welcomed the gatecrasher. Afterwards, Chloe explained to him how she had automatically known that the girl was being bothered by a stranger and needed their company:
“[G]irls are taught that if they’re ever in that situation, they should go up to another girl and act like they know each other. Just start talking. And we’re all supposed to know to play along because then the creep will think the girl is with other friends, and he’ll leave her alone. That’s what that girl was doing.”
“And you just knew what to do?” I asked.
“Women have to know how to do those things, Hunter,” Chloe said. “We’re always in those situations where we have to deal with that crap. I just did my best for her. That’s all I could do. No, I had to do it.”
Chloe is a wonderful character, making readers root for Hunter to find her quickly so that the young lovers can be reunited. Of course, the story here isn’t as straightforward as all that, making for an excellent if sobering read that is unafraid to talk about the impact social issues have on all of us, and how we learn to cope with them across genders, generations and other divides.