I’m delighted to have an extract to share with you today from The Lost Girls by Heather Young as part of the blog tour. My thanks to Hollie McDevitt at Oldcastle for inviting me to participate in the tour.
The Lost Girls was published by Verve on 25th November and is available for purchase in all the usual places including directly from the publisher here.
The Lost Girls
A stunning debut novel that examines the price of loyalty, the burden of regret, the meaning of salvation, and the sacrifices we make for those we love, told in the voices of two unforgettable women linked by a decades-old family mystery at a picturesque lake house.
In 1935, six-year-old Emily Evans vanishes from her family’s vacation home on a remote Minnesota lake. Her disappearance destroys the family–her father commits suicide, and her mother and two older sisters spend the rest of their lives at the lake house, keeping a decades-long vigil for the lost child.
Sixty years later, Lucy, the quiet and watchful middle sister, lives in the lake house alone. Before her death, she writes the story of that devastating summer in a notebook that she leaves, along with the house, to the only person who might care: her grandniece, Justine. For Justine, the lake house offers freedom and stability–a way to escape her manipulative boyfriend and give her daughters the home she never had. But the long Minnesota winter is just beginning. The house is cold and dilapidated. The dark, silent lake is isolated and eerie. Her only neighbor is a strange old man who seems to know more about the summer of 1935 than he’s telling.
Soon Justine’s troubled oldest daughter becomes obsessed with Emily’s disappearance, her mother arrives to steal her inheritance, and the man she left launches a dangerous plan to get her back. In a house haunted by the sorrows of the women who came before her, Justine must overcome their tragic legacy if she hopes to save herself and her children…
An Extract from The Lost Girls
I found this notebook in the desk yesterday. I didn’t know I had any of them left, those books I bought at Framer’s with their black-and-white marbled covers and their empty, lined pages waiting to be filled. When I opened it, the binding crackled in my hands and I had to sit down.
The edges of the book’s pages were yellow and curled, but their centers were white, and they shouted in the quiet of the parlor. Long ago, I filled these books with stories, simple things the children enjoyed, but this one demanded something else. It was as though it had lain in wait beneath stacks of old Christmas cards and faded stationery until now, when my life has begun to wane with the millennium and my thoughts have turned more and more to the past.
It’s been sixty-four years. That doesn’t feel so long, strange though it may seem to you, but Mother is dead, and Father, and Lilith; I am the last. When I am gone, it will be as though that summer never happened. I’ve thought about this as I sit in my chair on the porch, as I take my evening walk up to the bridge, and as I lie awake listening to the water shifting in the dark. I’ve even taken to sleeping in Lilith’s and my old room, in the small bed that used to be mine. Last night I watched the moonlight on the ceiling and thought of the many nights I have lain there: as a child, as a young girl, and now as an old woman. I thought about how easy it would be to let all of it pass from the earth.
When morning came, I made my buttered toast and set it on its flowered plate, but I didn’t eat it. Instead I sat at the kitchen table with this book open before me, listening to the wind in the trees and feeling the house breathe. I traced my finger along the scratches and gouges in the elm table my great-grandfather made for his new wife in the century before I was born. It was the heart of the cabin he built on their homestead, and of the home their son built in the town that came after, but their grandson thought it crude, fit only for this, his summer house. Its scars are worn now; the years have smoothed them to dark ripples in the golden wood. As I said, I am the last. Since Lilith’s passing three years ago, the story of that summer has been mine alone, to keep or to share. It’s a power I’ve had just once before, and I find I am far less certain what to do with it now than I was then. I hold secrets that don’t belong to me; secrets that would blacken the names of the defenseless dead. People I once loved. Better to let it be, I told myself.
But this notebook reminds me it’s not so simple as that. I owe other debts. I made other promises. And not all the defenseless dead, loved or not, are virtuous. Still, I have no doubt that I would have remained silent, waiting for my own death to decide the matter, had I not found it. Its empty pages offer me a compromise, one that I, who have rarely had the fortitude to make irrevocable choices, have decided to accept.
I will write my family’s story, here in this book that bided its time so well. I will tell it as fully as I can, even the parts that grieve me. When I am done I will leave it to you, Justine, along with everything else. You will wonder why I’ve chosen you and not your mother, and to that I say that you are the only one to whom the past might matter. If it does, you will come here when I am gone, and Arthur will give this to you, and I will trust you to do with us as you see fit. If it does not – which may well be, for I knew you so briefly, and you were just a child – then you won’t come. You’ll be content to let the lawyers and the realtors do their work, to continue your life without seeing this house or the lake again. If that is the way of it, I will instruct Arthur to burn this book unread. For I believe it will then be all right to let that summer slip away, and Emily with it. Like all the other ghosts of forgotten things.
I don’t know about you, but that excerpt has made me desperate to read The Lost Girls.
About Heather Young
Heather is the author of two novels. Her debut, The Lost Girls, won the Strand Award for Best First Novel and was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel. Her second novel, The Distant Dead, was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best Novel and named one of the ten best mystery/suspense books of 2020 by Booklist. A former antitrust and intellectual property litigator, she traded the legal world for the literary one and earned her MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars in 2011. She lives in Mill Valley, California, where she writes, bikes, hikes, and reads books by other people that she wishes she’d written.
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