Thirteen-year-olds Hannah and Danny are lifelong friends, and the children of two couples who have also been lifelong friends. But that changes following the sudden death of Hannah’s mother. Not only does Hannah’s dad become estranged from Danny’s parents, but she notices she herself is becoming slowly estranged from Danny too.
Then Danny disappears. Everyone expects him to reappear within a day or so. He doesn’t. The longer he’s gone, the more people expect it to be a body that shows up instead. But after three years there has still been nothing, except for hope and, more often than not, false hope.
And then Danny reappears, and of course he’s no longer a fresh-faced pre-pubescent. This version has stubble on his chin and sneaks off for an occasional smoke. Despite all that, Hannah is overjoyed, hopeful that they can forget all the time they have lost. It may have been three years, but Danny is still distant, however. Hannah knows he has a secret, perhaps about something that happened to him during the missing years, which he claims not to remember.
At heart this is a thriller, like Hitchcock for teens. It has a simple premise and a character-driven plot featuring normal people trapped in an inescapable situation, not knowing what (or whom) to believe. The story twists and turns brilliantly, daring you to come up with theories, then tempting you to second-guess yourself. However, it never calls for any suspension of disbelief.
As well as being such an effective thriller, the novel is also a portrait of two families linked by loss in some ways but later torn apart by it. It’s about how the longer you know someone the more secrets you will end up sharing with them, but how sometimes that isn’t always a good thing.