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by Kate Moretti
Atria, September 2017
353 pages
ISBN: 1501118455

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It all begins when a thousand starlings fall from the sky on a baseball field at Mt. Oanoke High School, in a small, insular Pennsylvania town.

The bad omen seems appropriate. Soon the whole town is divided when baseball coach Nate Winters, also a math teacher, is accused of being in a relationship with one of his students, Lucia Hamm. When Lucia disappears, the stakes are raised.

The story alternates between four unreliable—and unlikable—characters: Nate, his wife Alecia, Lucia, and Bridget Peterson, Lucia's creative writing teacher and a good friend to Nate and Alecia.

Nate is a caring teacher—perhaps too caring. He follows his students on social media, so he can have an insight into their heartbreaks and squabbles, he says, and be a better teacher to them. He wants to be there for them at all times. This doesn't sit well with other teachers, who view this as bordering on inappropriate.

It certainly doesn't sit well with Alecia, who is resentful and angry. She and Nate have a five-year-old son who is autistic, and it seems always to fall on her to take him to the doctor and care for him. Nate seems to spend more energy on his students than on his own family, and Alecia doesn't know whether to believe him or not when he insists he did not have an affair with Lucia.

Lucia, called a witch at school, is a troubled student whose sole parent, her father, has deserted her and her brother. The two live alone until her brother falls deeper into drug abuse. Her childhood friend, Taylor, is more interested in her new clique of friends, leaving Lucia even more of an outsider. She's accused Nate of having an affair with her, but why would she do so if it isn't true?

Bridget is barely hanging on after having lost her husband a year ago. But when Lucia disappears she's the only one to start digging. What she finds could endanger her own life.

While the premise was interesting, none of the characters reached the level of likability, and it was hard to care about what happened to Lucia. While thrillers should be fast-paced and hard to put down, this one felt like a slog. I did put it down—a couple of times—to start reading other books. The outcome, after finally wading through the novel, was predictable and signaled in advance. It's a pity—the story does have a message for these times, in which accusations of sexual harassment and assaults are coming to light. But it was lost in a sluggish story.

§ Lourdes Venard is an independent editor who divides her time between New York and Maui.

Reviewed by Lourdes Venard, November 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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