You Were Never Here
You Were Never Here
My eyes trail idly over the brightly colored flyers on the board next to me. A hardware store on the US side that will hold parcels for Canadians. Reminders that plants aren’t supposed to be taken across the border. Ads for whale-watching tours along the coast and antique sales up and down the valley. Ordinary, forgettable stuff. But in among the other notices, partly covered by a plea for the return of a lost engagement ring, is a missing poster.
The word “missing” by itself wouldn’t be enough to hold my attention. Not really. It’s the name underneath that wraps itself around me and pins me to the spot.
It has to be a coincidence, I think. There have to be about a thousand Riley Frasers in the world. But I still find myself reaching out and peeling away the flyer for the lost ring to reveal a black-and-white yearbook photo.
The boy in the picture is handsome. Chiseled jaw and wavy hair kind of handsome. The kind of handsome that gets crowned homecoming king or maybe class president. Even though the smile on the boy’s face looks forced around the edges, it’s wide enough to bring out the dimple in his left cheek.
A dimple isn’t proof, but there are other hints. Planes and angles around the eyes and mouth. Echoes of a boy I used to know. The boy I’ve spent years trying not to think about.
There are a thousand Riley Frasers in the world, and the boy on the poster is mine.
After a traumatic episode that has possibly destroyed her relationship with her best friend Lacey and angered her father enough to send her away for the summer, Cat Montgomery finds herself on a Greyhound bus bound for Canada. Her destination is Montgomery Falls, a tiny town in New Brunswick where she will stay with her aunt Jet and hopefully also stay out of trouble. It’s been five years since Cat has been in Montgomery Falls, and she is still haunted by the events of that last visit. That was the summer when she and Riley Fraser had become best friends. It was also the summer that she had first discovered her unique ability to read people’s fears and desires simply by touching their skin. Riley had been the only one she could confide in about this strange gift. But then something happened, and Riley turned on her. His faith in her turned to fear: he thought she was a freak, and he hated her, or at least that is what Cat has believed ever since that one terrible day, the day of her first kiss.
And now she’s headed back to the very place where it all happened. But when she gets there, she learns that Riley is missing. For the last three months, the whole town has been looking for him, but not a single clue has emerged as to what might have happened to him. Riley’s mother is shattered, and his older brother Noah is angry, certain that someone has hurt Riley and wanting to make them pay. Noah tries to convince Cat to use her gift to help find Riley, but she refuses – until a local girl, Rachel, is found in the river. Cat, sure that whoever did this to Rachel is also behind Riley’s disappearance, becomes determined to help Noah find this person and learn the truth about what happened to Riley. As she and Noah try to make sense of new discoveries, Cat begins to see herself and her relationship to those around her in a new light.
Kathleen Peacock’s latest YA offering is a complex and carefully-plotted mystery that also skillfully weaves family drama, self-discovery, and a hint of romance into one compelling narrative. From the very first page, the mystery element is masterfully crafted as Cat learns of Riley’s disappearance and she, along with everyone else in the town, is left wondering: has he met with foul play? Is it possible that he has chosen to just vanish mysteriously? Would he do that to his mother and brother? But if not, what has happened to him? Why would someone wish to harm him? Ultimately Cat feels more certain that someone has, in fact, done Riley harm and that others may also be in danger until that person is found. As she and Noah work together to try to find out what has happened and who is behind it, the tension builds slowly. Several very clever red herrings keep readers guessing until the dramatic revelation scene which is taut and tense and well-paced.
But while Cat ponders the many questions surrounding Riley, she also becomes friends with Aidan, one of the boarders that her aunt has taken in. Aidan introduces her to Skylar and Joey and Chase, an eclectic group of friends who love horror movies and who welcome her into their ranks. As her friendship with Aidan evolves, she begins to wonder if he might like her as more than just a friend. But this possibility opens up even more problems for Cat as she continues to wrestle with her supernatural gift and what that means for her in terms of her relationships with other people. Can she risk getting close to someone if she can’t ever let herself touch him or be touched by him? If anyone finds out about this unnatural ability, will they only ever see her as a freak, as she fears that Riley did? While the mystery surrounding Riley is always at the forefront, these fears and uncertainties that Cat contends with add an extra layer of tension to the story.
As readers learn more about the events that transpired back in New York with her best friend Lacey, we become equally invested in the story surrounding Cat’s coming to terms with herself and this family gift that she has inherited. The events of this summer help her to begin to accept herself and to see the ways in which she has been guilty of pushing people away, including Lacey. Cat displays great maturity and self-awareness by the story’s end, another aspect which the author handles with sensitivity and skill. Readers may, however, wish that they could have learned more about this gift and its history in her family and to have seen more resolution of her acceptance of the gift and the strain that it had created between her and her father. It is, nevertheless, an engaging facet of the plot, and the author very successfully manages to juggle the numerous elements of the story.
Cat is a dynamic and sympathetic protagonist, and the secondary characters are well-drawn. The plot is largely focused on the mystery, but Cat’s questions of identity and self-acceptance, her potential romantic attraction to both Noah and Aidan, her unresolved issues with Lacey and also with her father, along with her coming to terms with what actually happened between her and Riley…Peacock deftly addresses all of these things and nimbly blends them into the overarching narrative. Ultimately, You Were Never Here truly is a book that has something to offer readers of any genre. It is a compelling, thought-provoking tale with winsome, well-rounded characters, perfect pacing and strong dramatic tension.
Lisa is Co-Manager of Woozles Children’s Bookstore in Halifax, Nova Scotia.