Published by Balzer + Bray on January 26th, 2016
All Imogene Scott knows of her mother is the bedtime story her father told her as a child. It's the story of how her parents met: he, a forensic pathologist, she, a mysterious woman who came to identify a body. A woman who left Imogene and her father when she was a baby, a woman who was always possessed by a powerful loneliness, a woman who many referred to as troubled waters.
When Imogene is seventeen, her father, now a famous author of medical mysteries, strikes out in the middle of the night and doesn't come back. Neither Imogene's stepmother nor the police know where he could've gone, but Imogene is convinced he's looking for her mother. She decides to put to use the skills she's gleaned from a lifetime of her father's books to track down a woman she's never known, in order to find him and, perhaps, the answer to the question she's carried with her for her entire life.
Rebecca Podos' debut is a powerful, affecting story of the pieces of ourselves that remain mysteries even to us - the desperate search through empty spaces for something to hold on to.
So you know when you pick up a book and you feel it in your bones that this is going to be amazing, a totally You book? It’s got all the markers, from the cover, to the genre, to the first few pages – it’s like YES, I’ve finally found something I know is gonna kill me. Well, this was supposed to be that book. But it wasn’t. Instead, it was wholly detached and very uninterested. I loved a lot about it, don’t get me wrong, but The Mystery of Hollow Places missed the mark a lot of ways for me.
There were parts of this novel that positively shined. In particular, I loved the voice. Imogene was sarcastic and sometimes caustic, but I would never label her as one of those snarky characters who is all bite and no real personality under there. She felt very much like a real teenager; I paused while reading dozens of times to think about how real Imogene felt. There was a lot about her that could have made her feel outrageous, like her obsession with mystery novels and things like that. But she was always grounded by her very realistic behaviors and reactions to things. Her tendency to shut down, to become shy and self-aware, even her friendship with her best friend Jessa. Friends in high school are not always inseparable, and they definitely don’t have clique names and things like that. Instead, Im’s and Jessa’s friendship was made to feel more realistic by the occasional bickering, the comfort they had around one another, the way they eased into trust. On the whole, this book was made better by the realism of the characters.
One thing that totally surprised me was the role family played, not just in the story, but in Imogene’s life. I thought for sure, with an absent mother and a missing father, this would be another way to get the parents out of the picture so the main character could do whatever she wanted. Instead, Imogene had this amazing stepmother named Lindy who was just… I can’t really describe what Lindy’s role meant to me. She was present and aware and she cared so so much for Imogene. Lindy could very easily have be stuffed into the stepmonster role, with her perfectly coiffed hair and diamonds and silk wardrobe. It’s so rare to see such thoughtful and caring stepparents and some of the best parts of the entire book were moments shared between Lindy and Imogene.
Something that is woefully lacking in YA in general and YA mysteries especially, is modern technology. So many mysteries in young adult – and I’ve read a fair amount – could be solved, or at least helped, by performing a simple Google search. Im and Jessa routinely used computers and cellphones and tablets and all kinds of things to help them along the way. They used Google Maps and white pages websites. They also did things like break into a hospital records room and knock on doors, but they texted and talked and googled and simply used the 2015 technology afforded to them. The girls also referenced a lot of pop culture, from Vampire Diaries to Nicki Minaj, not in a way that was obnoxious, but in a way that normal people do. I’m not sure why these elements are left out of books all the time – possibly it’s to avoid dating your book – but for me, it added another layer of realism to a story that could be ridiculous.
While I appreciated the much needed realism in Mystery I still had a problem really connecting to the story. Imogene’s mom, Sidonie, walked out on her family 13? years ago, when Im was really little. Sidonie suffered from depression or some other form of mental illness and she thought her family would be better off without her. Im’s father, who goes missing at the beginning of the book, has bipolar disorder. Because of this, Im has always lived like she’s a ticking time bomb, waiting for her own symptoms to finally start. This could have been really sad and upsetting, but the childish way Im described her parents’ illnesses with words like “bad times” and “sad” separated me from any kind of feelings. It was like Im was an elementary aged child without a therapist stepmom and years of therapy to give her the right words.
And a lot of the mystery felt like View Spoiler »a hopeful kid just wishing for her parents to get back together. She desperately believes that her father is out tracking down her mother, so if she could only find Sidonie, she could find them both. It’s very sad to watch, but it was so clear and obvious that this was going on – that he really wasn’t looking for Sidonie and instead this was Im projecting her hope onto the situation – that it made everything a little less urgent. « Hide Spoiler I can say that I wasn’t sure exactly how the novel would end, though I had a pretty good idea. It was a lot less sad than I had anticipated, but the way I thought things were going to go was pretty much the Worst Possible Scenario, so. I also felt like this book dragged on way longer than it should have. It’s only 304 pages, but it felt like 400. There was a lot of description for a contemporary novel, and the ending especially was stretched way too thin. I liked where the characters ended up, but it took way too much work to get there.
I can see that there are a ton of amazing things about The Mystery of Hollow Places. This is the most down to earth depiction I’ve ever seen of a teenage detective, basically, and it made me happy to see how realistic all the characters were. Nothing tied up in a pretty little bow and the book was made better for it. However, I just could not immerse myself in the story or get emotionally attached to the characters, so this wasn’t the best book for me.