Reviewed by Marlyn Beebe.
Twelve-year old Caitlin Stuart used to walk her dog Frosty in a park near their house, next to a cemetery. One day, Frosty comes home without Caitlin.
Four years later, her father Tom hasn't given up waiting for her to return. He still leaves a key under the doormat for her in case she comes back and no one's home, and refuses to talk to a counselor or therapist.
Meanwhile, Caitlin's mother Abby resigns herself to the fact that she may never see her daughter again, and organizes a memorial service for her at a church that she's started attending regularly. She even puts up a headstone in the cemetery near the house. Unsurprisingly this difference of opinion has caused a rift in the marriage and Abby moves out.
Then, suddenly they hear from the police. Caitlin has been found walking down a deserted road at 3:30 in the morning. She won't say anything about where she's been, or whether she ran away or was taken.
Tom and Abby take her back to the house, and try to get to know their daughter again. She asks Tom not to ask her any questions about her life during those four years. At first, Tom agrees, assuming that she will talk to the police or their psychiatrist, but when it becomes clear that she came returned against her will, he becomes frustrated.
Pushing her for answers, he gets the response:
"Someday I hope you do find out where I was and everything that happened to me...I can tell you the truth will hurt you more than not knowing".
Tom focuses not on the concept that the truth would hurt him, but that she said "everything that happened to me", not "everything I did". He becomes obsessed with learning where she was, and who she was with, certain that if he knows all the details he will find some peace.
Bell's portrayal of Tom as a father made irrational first by his belief that his daughter is alive, and then by his need to know what she was doing during the four long years were gone is compelling. The story is written in the first person, so we perceive everything as Tom would. Despite that, most of the primary characters are portrayed as neither or both good and bad.
The story does begin a little slowly, but becomes more engrossing as it progresses. By the middle of the second chapter, it's tough to put down.
The trailer for Cemetery Girl is one of the best I've seen:
*FTC Full Disclosure: Many thanks to the publisher, who sent me a copy of the book for review purposes.