Small town. Urban Legends. A gruesome stabbing.
Before She Was Found definitely felt like it could be the ripped from the headlines fictionalized retelling of the Slender Man stabbing. For those unfamiliar, in 2014 two 12 year old girls lured their 12 year old friend into the woods and proceeded to stab her 19 times to appease the entity known as 'Slender Man'. For the first couple of chapters I was worried that this book was going to be nothing more than a retelling of true events with the names changed. Though the plot does concern the aftermath of a brutal stabbing involving three 12 year old girls, the similarities end there.
The book delves into the differences in the home lives of each of the three girls in a small town in Iowa. Cora, along with her sister Kendall live with very strict parents with a father who borders on abusive. New to town Violet, and her brother Max, are raised by a single mom and live on the 'wrong side of the tracks'. Jordyn, raised by her grandparents after being abandoned by her drug addict father, has picked on and bullied Cora since they were in Kindergarten together.
Cora, a loner without any friends finds respite in Mr. Dover's classroom at lunch time. Rumors about Cora's favorite teacher and why he left his last teaching job fill the school. When she meets and befriends Violet, Jordyn can't help but make Cora miserable by including herself in their plans. The three girls share a tenuous friendship with Jordyn relishing the role of mean girl, but when a school project about urban legends lands the three girls in a group together their lives are changed forever.
The author raises questions about what lengths would you go to keep your child out of jail. Would you hide evidence in a crime? Would you get rid of bloody clothes? Would you encourage your child to lie to the police? How far would you go to protect your child when your child could very well be responsible for a brutal stabbing that almost took the life of her friend? At what point does a prank just become a cruel exercise in torment? What secrets are ok to keep? Finally, you question if this fictional story based in part on the true story would have had a happier ending if only someone was able to get the help they so desperately needed. Hindsight is 20/20 after all.
Using a tween's diary, text messages, police reports, interviews, therapist's notes, and eye witness testimony Heather Gudenkauf weaves a tale that seemed familiar at first but twisted it's way into a dramatic conclusion that I wasn't expecting.