As a society, we are currently – and have been for a long time – in a crisis of toxic masculinity. As we justifiably struggle to figure out better ways to raise our boys to grow into more compassionate, accepting, and decent men, we cannot overlook other troubling developments. With Before She Was Found, Heather Gudenkauf confronts the “mean girl” stereotype head-on and in peeling back the layers reveals that like most societal issues, this one is far more complex and ingrained than we ever imagined.

At the core of Before She Was Found is the intricate friendship between three very different girls: Cora Landry, an innocent and insecure twelve-year-old; Violet Crow, the new girl in town from a less affluent family; and Jordyn Petit, the reigning queen bee of the school. When the three of them are assigned a group project on urban myths, their already tenuous connections are fully put to the test.

Deciding they will focus their assignment on Joseph Wither, a suspected serial predator from their town’s past, eventually leads them to an abandoned train station late one night. The next morning, Violet is found wandering the tracks covered in blood, Cora is discovered barely clinging to life after having been beaten and stabbed, and Jordyn is gone. The facts of what happened that evening will slowly unspool over the course of this addictive novel. But is it possible that the root causes of this tragedy were planted long before that fateful night?

Heather Gudenkauf uses a variety of sources to expose the truth. Shifting points of view, non-linear timelines, and a multitude of documents – social media communications, a diary, and police reports – all converge to paint a truly scary picture of adolescent life in the modern world. The elements of the Joseph Wither myth harken back to the Slender Man case from a few years ago, but expand on the idea to create even greater threats of danger. The unique dynamics within each girl’s family add another layer of exploration that elevates Before She Was Found above other similar types of books.

This is a difficult book to classify. Before She Was Found is domestic suspense, a psychological thriller, and a police procedural all woven together seamlessly. Heather Gudenkauf’s clever plotting will systematically dispel any assumptions one enters with, all while making complete logical sense and featuring some heartbreaking moments. This is a stand-alone novel, but readers will long to know more about a few of these characters as they reach the conclusion of the book. At the very least, new Heather Gudenkauf fans will be created, eager for her next storytelling endeavor.

For audiobook fans, Brittany Pressley expertly provides the narration for Before She Was Found. Pressley is like Meryl Streep in her ability to bring to life the various characters with skillful vocal techniques and a dramatic reading style. This is one stellar audiobook performance.

BUY LINKS: Before She Was Found by Heather Gudenkauf