What Has Become of You
Vera Lundy ponders beginnings and endings, particularly the arrest of a man named Ritchie Ouelette for the murder of Angela Galvez, an 11-year-old local girl, as she stands in the public library. She wonders if she can somehow work her musings into a lesson plan when she starts her new job as a long-term substitute teacher at a tony private girls' high school in the tiny town of Dorset, Maine. Vera checks out THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, which she plans to use in her classroom, along with three true-crime books. She is fascinated by true crime in general; in fact, she is writing a book on the killer who murdered a girl she knew as a teen. Fancying herself quite the criminal profiler, she decides that Ouelette is not guilty of strangling Galvez.
When Vera arrives at her tiny apartment after her library visit, she finds a surprising email message. It's from a girl named Jensen Willard, who tells Vera that she will be a student in her English class. Jensen has a question about which copy of THE CATCHER IN THE RYE she needs to use in class. Vera is struck by the fact that the girl has bothered to track her email address down and that her writing seems to indicate unusual talent and intelligence.
"By the time I reached the middle of the story, I was so hooked that I sacrificed hours of sleep in order to finish it... All in all, WHAT HAS BECOME OF YOU is a creepy, atmospheric, dark, slightly bizarre but oddly satisfying page-turner."
Vera’s first day teaching at Wallace School looms. She’s nervous, even as she’s distracted by a phone call from her mother with gossip about her ex-fiancé. It seems that Peter is getting married, which leaves a sour taste in her mouth. After hanging up, she decides to ponder the girls' names on the attendance roster for her first class the next morning. Somehow, she figures, it will give her power to already know their names when she meets them.
In the classroom early the next morning, as Vera awaits her students, she has a flashback memory of herself as a teen, cowering inside her home while fists pound on the windows and angry voices yell, demanding she come out of hiding. Her remembering is interrupted when students begin arriving. She can connect some of the names she memorized from the previous night with the students, including Sufia Ahmed, a gorgeous Somali girl wearing a hijab. A small dark-haired girl wearing a shabby charcoal dress arrives late. This is Jensen Willard, who essentially declines the opportunity to join in the introductions that Vera requests from them.
When it's Vera's turn to talk about herself, she mentions that she is writing a true-crime book. Then she wonders why she brought that up. With just 32 manuscript pages completed, it's not like her book is ready to submit to publishers. However, the topic is eagerly seized by her students, who want to discuss the Galvez case. Vera awkwardly changes the subject in order to talk about the classroom assignment. She has no way of knowing how intimately involved she will soon be with one of her students. The connection is destined to evolve into a convoluted relationship that will twist Vera's life around, even as it melts the distinction between right and wrong --- played out against a darkening backdrop of murder and suspicion.
This ultimately engrossing novel begins slowly, and yet I somehow could not put it down. Author Jan Elizabeth Watson skillfully teases readers with dark hints about Vera's past, leading to foreboding speculation about just what is in store, which makes the tale breathlessly suspenseful. By the time I reached the middle of the story, I was so hooked that I sacrificed hours of sleep in order to finish it, even though I found Vera to be an off-kilter person who is not at all what I would describe as a sympathetic character. Yet she is strangely compelling. The plotline zigs and zags in a refreshingly unpredictable manner. All in all, WHAT HAS BECOME OF YOU is a creepy, atmospheric, dark, slightly bizarre but oddly satisfying page-turner.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on May 23, 2014