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by Karin Slaughter
William Morrow, August 2022
400 pages
ISBN: 0062858114

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Karin Slaughter's crime novels have entertained a generation of readers and inspired a television series starring Toni Collette. Her latest standalone novel, GIRL, FORGOTTEN, is an exceptionally strong example: riveting, human, and devastatingly timely. In 1982, Emily Vaughan, seventeen, defiantly sets out in her turquoise satin prom dress, on prom night, for the streets of her small, affluent beach town, visibly pregnant. She's on a mission to disrupt the prom night, ultimate ritual of suburban conformity. She's ready to speak truth to all kinds of power--but somehow ends up murdered, in a dumpster. Thirty years later, this "girl, forgotten" is remembered by another strong-minded young woman, US Marshal Andrea Oliver, who has a cryptic family connection to someone from Emily's past. As Andrea investigates the cold case, she finds that Emily's struggles reverberate into present-day life, with repercussions in modern political life.

Solving Emily's murder means confronting those who dehumanize other young women at the present day--and Andrea is up for the challenge. Her quest enables Slaughter to investigate all the ways in which Reagan-era attitudes to reproductive rights and the status of women created tragedy for Emily's generation and threaten that of her granddaughter. However, GIRL, FORGOTTEN is no screed. It's narrated with engaging third-person omniscient realism within several time settings, from the fatal prom night to six months before it and years afterwards. Characters who might seem to be stock types, such as Jack "Cheese" Stilton, small-town police chief and son of the previous police chief, or Emily's mother, a judge, turn out to have surprising depth. So do the adults of 1982, including those embedded in the political establishment. So many characters try to do what seems to them to be the right thing, in impossible situations that they collectively exacerbate. The complexity of Emily's predicament and those of her survivors belies the political truism that ethical behavior is simple and easy to figure out. Moreover, while the main action is Oliver's investigation of Emily's murder, Emily is the character who seems the most alive. She insists upon agency. Even after her death, she seems to compel Andrea to find the truth.

At its heart, this is a story about who owns girls' bodies, about reproductive justice, and about political hypocrisy. It's a story about how women police other women's lives--and not only by working, as Andrea does, for a police force. It's unguessable and suspenseful, but also important enough that the ending is productively unsatisfying and Emily's ghost continues its haunting. In short, GIRL, FORGOTTEN, is a book to be remembered.

Rebecca Nesvet is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay and co-edits Reviewing the Evidence.

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, August 2022

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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