Rhonda Farr, 23 years old and on her way to a job interview in her Vermont hometown of Pike's Crossing, stops at Pat's Mini Mart ostensibly to fill her gas tank. In actuality, she is hoping to run into Peter, the childhood friend she has always loved. Peter works in Pat's garage, and seeing him there beats having to endure the frustrating experience of viewing him in the bosom of his happy family, including his wife, Tock, and his little girl, Suzy. At the gas pump, though, Pat's husband Jim informs Rhonda that Peter took the day off.
Trudy Florucci pulls up to the store, leaving her second-grade daughter, Ernie, in the car listening to music. Jim runs into the store to wait on Trudy. As her gas tank fills, Rhonda nervously anticipates her job interview. She's distracted when a gold Volkswagen Beetle pulls up; she knows the vehicle belongs to Peter's mother-in-law, who continually gloats over how happy Tock is with Peter. Rhonda sinks down into her seat, hoping to remain unnoticed. But then the VW driver door opens and a giant white rabbit steps out.
The rabbit hops, jerking its head, and almost appears to be looking at Rhonda with its big plastic eyes. It nods at Rhonda and hops over to Trudy's car, knocking on the window behind which Ernie sits. Ernie smiles at the big rabbit, rolling her window down to touch it. Then she unbuckles her seatbelt, takes the rabbit's paw in her own hand, and walks with it over to the gold VW where she gets into the passenger's seat. Rhonda just gapes as the Volkswagen drives off.
Soon, though, Rhonda is explaining to the police why she did nothing as someone in a rabbit suit abducted a little girl. It's hard to explain, even to herself. She would describe herself as a practical, active person who always knows what to do in any situation, but for some reason she had felt mesmerized by the white rabbit. Understandably, Trudy is beside herself. She can't imagine who would take her little girl, or why. She even accuses Rhonda of being involved in the kidnapping. Meanwhile, law enforcement officials search the area while the store's owner efficiently sets up a search center.
Rhonda can't help but remember another person in a white rabbit suit, back when she and Peter were younger. Lizzy, Peter's sister and Rhonda's best friend, was also there. Peter and Lizzy's father, Daniel, had been the one in the suit, helping the children collect Easter eggs. But that was before the kids put on the play "Peter Pan" and Daniel mysteriously vanished, followed years later by Lizzy. Although Lizzy then sent postcards home to tell her mother and brother that she had joined her father, questions about their abrupt disappearances and Lizzy's frequent odd behavior have niggled away at Rhonda for years. Now, as she discovers clues that she believes will lead her to Ernie's kidnapper, she also grapples with understanding those long-ago mysteries, even as she strikes up her first true romantic relationship with Warren, Pat's nephew and a fellow volunteer at the search center for Ernie.
A heartbreaking and haunting masterpiece, this book teases readers with an almost painfully slow unveiling of puzzle piece clues. The atmosphere is dark and sinister while the plot twists and turns and tantalizes. Author Jennifer McMahon's understated writing packs an emotion-laden wallop. I can count on one hand how many times any book has truly frightened me, but ISLAND OF LOST GIRLS caused my heart to race and my breath to catch. I was afraid to keep turning pages, yet couldn't resist reaching the conclusion where the puzzle pieces finally fit together, forming an unpredictable and satisfying ending.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on January 22, 2011