It’s a total fluke that I am writing my review of Norma Fox Mazer’s last novel, The Missing Girl, on the anniversary of her death. She died on October 17, 2009 and although she was a very well-known and highly regarded young adult novelist, The Missing Girl was my introduction to her writing. In a career that spanned over 40 years, Mazer wrote over 30 books including Newbery Honor Book, After the Rain and National Book Award Finalist A Figure of Speech.
The Missing Girl is the story of the five Hebert sisters: Beauty, Mim, Faithful, Fancy and Autumn. They live with their out of work father, Poppy, and slightly air-headed mother, Blossom, in Mallory, New York. Beauty, the eldest at 17, dreams of graduating high school and fleeing Mallory.
When she left Mallory, it would be for Chicago, which she had first heard about from Mr. Giametti, her seventh-grade language arts teacher who gre up there. She was going to a place where no one knew her, a place where she could become whoever it was she was meant to be…
The Hebert family dynamics would actually be quite enough to make The Missing Girl a compelling read, but Mazer had something else in mind.
If the man is lucky, in the morning on his way to work, he sees the girls. A flock of them, like birds.
Slight of build, stoop shouldered, wearing a gray coat, a gray scarf around his neck against the cold, his wire-rimmed glasses set firmly on his nose, minding his own business, he could be any man, any respectable, ordinary man.
But there is nothing ordinary about this man. He is watching the sisters carefully, biding his time, waiting for the perfect moment. The reader knows it’s coming. The girls are unaware. They have their own issues and petty grievances with each other. Their lives are chaotic and slightly ramshackle.
What struck me about The Missing Girl was the quality of the prose and the very authentic voices of the characters. Employing first, second and third person points of view, Mazer manages to create compelling lives for all the girls and without anything gratuitous makes their “admirer” a creepy predator.
Mazer said she came to write The Missing Girl via a series of short stories about the Hebert sisters which she wrote for various anthologies. It wasn’t until she lost her daughter to cancer in 2001, though, that she settled in to write this novel. “Her death was unbearable,” Mazer said,” “but of course I bear it. I must. Yet below the surface of my life, her loss remains unbearable and will always remain so.
“I still do not understand this fully, but it seems to me that after her death I was compelled to write about something hard, difficult – you might call it unbearable – and to name that ‘something’ with the three words that name my grief, my loss, my sorrow: the missing girl.”