Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Books: "The Sea Of Lost Girls" By Carol Goodman

The Sea Of Lost Girls
By Carol Goodman
William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers; paperback, $16.99; available Tuesday, March 3

Carol Goodman is the author of twenty-one novels, including The Widow's House, which received the Mary Higgins Clark Award from the Mystery Writers of America. She is nominated for the award again in 2020 for her most recent novel, The Night Visitors.

In The Sea Of Lost Girls, Goodman uses her superior storytelling abilities to bring a simmering new work of psychological suspense, in which one woman's carefully hidden past might destroy her future. It is all set against the backdrop of a prestigious prep school with its own dark secrets hidden among the ivy.

Tess has worked hard to hide her past, which is where it belongs. Now she's the wife of a respected professor at an elite boarding school, where she also teaches. Her seventeen-year-old son, Rudy, whose dark mood and complicated behavior has always worried Tess, seems to be thriving. He has a lead role in the school play and a smart and ambitious girlfriend.

Tess attempts not to think about the mistakes she made eighteen years ago, and she mostly succeeds. One morning, she gets a text from Rudy at 2:50 AM asking for help. When she picks him up, she finds him drenched and shivering, with a dark stain on his sweatshirt.

Four hours later, Tess gets a phone call from the Haywood school headmistress, telling her that Rudy's girlfriend, Lila Zeller, has been found dead on the beach, not far from where Tess found Rudy just hours before.

As the investigation into Lila's death escalates, Tess finds her family attacked on all sides. What first appeared to be a tragic accidental death is turning into something far more sinister, and not only is Tess's son a suspect, but her husband is also a person of interest.

Lila's death isn't the first blemish on Haywood's record, and the more Tess discovers about Haywood's fabled history, the more vulnerable she feels about her own secrets as she realizes it's foolish to expect all skeletons to stay safely locked in the closet.

Goodman writes: "Built in 1811 by hardy Congregationalists, the Haywood chapel is a plain white clapboard meetinghouse. Entering it, I always feel like I'm about to be tried for witchcraft. I bring my students here when we read The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter and ask them to sit in silence for a few minutes, to imagine that there is nothing outside the little circle of houses but wilderness and the sea. If you're cast out of here, there is no place for you to go.

During that session this year Paola Fernandez started crying. I took her aside and brought her into the back room, where she told me, over hot chocolate and cookies provided by our pastor, Celia Barnstable, that she was afraid that if she didn't get her grades up she would lose her scholarship. 'My parents make something of myself, but it's so hard. All the other kids, they just know stuff I don't. My teachers in Yonkers hardly even showed up. How am I supposed to catch up?'

Although her writing was full of grammatical and spelling errors, she was a smart girl and if she worked hard with me she would be all right. I told her that I would tutor her after class and talk to her other teachers, feeling guilty about the lesson that had caused such stress.

'I terrorized the poor girl,' I told Harmon that night, 'all in the name of historical context.'

'If you hadn't she might not have talked to you. She's doing poorly in my class too. I don't think that school she went to taught the most basic U.S. history. I'll be happy to work with her too.'

I'd talked to Jean and got all Paola's teachers on board. I suggested she be paired with a high-achieving student as a mentor. Jean had suggested Lila, who had taken on the role so enthusiastically that when Paola's roommate dropped out, Lila offered to room with her. I was gratified to see that with the extra attention Paola's grades improved. She'd written an excellent essay on The Scarlet Letter and Harmon said she'd done well in his class. She was due to graduate in two weeks and had gotten a generous scholarship to Mount Holyoke. A success story.

I suppose I'm one of Haywood's success stories too. I don't know what would have happened to Rudy and me if I hadn't had this place to come back to. I don't know what will happen to us if we have to leave. The thought makes me feel suddenly breathless, reminding me of a story about the chapel, that on lonely nights her a voice can be heard sobbing and crying out, 'I'm drowning, I'm drowning.'"

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