A 2018 Goodreads Choice Award Finalist—Top 5 Best Mystery & Thriller * A Suspense Magazine “Best of 2018” Thriller/Suspense Pick
“An acutely observed family drama with bone-chilling suspense.” —People
“Jewell teases out her twisty plot at just the right pace, leaving readers on the edge of their seats. Her multilayered characters are sheer perfection, and even the most astute thriller reader won’t see where everything is going until the final threads are unknotted.” —Booklist, starred review
“Sharply written with twists and turns, Jewell’s latest will please fans of Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, or Luckiest Girl Alive." —Library Journal
Ellie Mack was the perfect daughter. She was fifteen, the youngest of three. She was beloved by her parents, friends, and teachers. She and her boyfriend made a teenaged golden couple. She was days away from an idyllic post-exams summer vacation, with her whole life ahead of her.
And then she was gone.
Now, her mother Laurel Mack is trying to put her life back together. It’s been ten years since her daughter disappeared, seven years since her marriage ended, and only months since the last clue in Ellie’s case was unearthed. So when she meets an unexpectedly charming man in a café, no one is more surprised than Laurel at how quickly their flirtation develops into something deeper. Before she knows it, she’s meeting Floyd’s daughters—and his youngest, Poppy, takes Laurel’s breath away.
Because looking at Poppy is like looking at Ellie. And now, the unanswered questions she’s tried so hard to put to rest begin to haunt Laurel anew. Where did Ellie go? Did she really run away from home, as the police have long suspected, or was there a more sinister reason for her disappearance? Who is Floyd, really? And why does his daughter remind Laurel so viscerally of her own missing girl?
Those months, the months before she disappeared, were the best months. Really. Just the best. Every moment presented itself to her like a gift and said, Here I am, another perfect moment, just look at me, can you believe how lovely I am? Every morning was a flurry of mascara and butterflies, quickening pulse as she neared the school gates, blooming joy as her eyes found him. School was no longer a cage; it was the bustling, spotlit film set for her love story.
Ellie Mack could not believe that Theo Goodman had wanted to go out with her. Theo Goodman was the best-looking boy in year eleven, bar none. He’d also been the best-looking boy in year ten, year nine, and year eight. Not year seven though. None of the boys in year seven were good-looking. They were all tiny, bug-eyed babies in huge shoes and oversized blazers.
Theo Goodman had never had a girlfriend and everyone thought maybe he was gay. He was kind of pretty, for a boy, and very thin. And just, basically, really, really nice. Ellie had dreamed about being with him for years, whether he was gay or not. She would have been happy just to have been his friend. His young, pretty mum walked to school with him every day. She wore gym gear and had her hair in a ponytail and usually had a small white dog with her that Theo would pick up and kiss on the cheek before placing it gently back down on the pavement; then he would kiss his mum and saunter through the gates. He didn’t care who saw. He wasn’t embarrassed by the powder-puff dog or his mum. He was self-assured.
Then one day last year, just after the summer holiday, he had struck up a conversation with her. Just like that. During lunch, something to do with some homework assignment or other, and Ellie, who really knew nothing much about anything, knew immediately that he wasn’t gay and that he was talking to her because he liked her. It was totally obvious. And then, just like that, they were boyfriend and girlfriend. She’d thought it would be more complicated.
But one wrong move, one tiny kink in the time line, it was all over. Not just their love story, but all of it. Youth. Life. Ellie Mack. All gone. All gone forever. If she could rewind the timeline, untwist it and roll it back the other way like a ball of wool, she’d see the knots in the yarn, the warning signs. Looking at it backward it was obvious all along. But back then, when she knew nothing about anything, she had not seen it coming. She had walked straight into it with her eyes open.
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This reading group guide for Then She Was Gone includes discussion questions and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. Then She Was Gone is, first and foremost, a mystery. Yet many questions are answered quite early on in the book. How soon did you guess what really happened to Ellie, and if you did, did it affect your enjoyment of the book?
2. In the prologue, it says “Looking at it backward it was obvious all along.” Now that you’ve finished the novel, do you agree? What “warning signs” referred to in the prologue might Ellie have spotted if she’d been more aware?
3. Did you think Lisa Jewell’s portrayal of Laurel and her journey was realistic? Could you relate to the way she dealt with her grief, or did you find it alienating?
4. What was your impression of Poppy when she is first introduced? Did this change over the course of the book, and if so, how?
5. Then She Was Gone is divided into six parts. Why do you think Lisa structured the book this way? How would you categorize each section—what makes it distinct from the other parts of the book?
6. For much of the book, Laurel and her daughter Hanna have a fraught relationship as Laurel fails to let go of unfavorable comparisons between Hanna and Ellie. Do you think it’s normal to have a favorite child? How should parents handle these feelings if they arise?
7. Throughout the novel, Laurel has moments in which she feels something is not quite right, but often writes it off as paranoia as a result of losing her daughter. Have you ever written off your own concerns? How can you distinguish between when you are being pessimistic, and when you should trust your intuition?
8. There are four different perspectives shown in the book, but only Noelle and Floyd’s narration are in first person. Why do you think Lisa chose to write their chapters in first person, directly addressing other characters, while Laurel and Ellie’s chapters were told through third person? What effect did this have on you as you read?
9. Floyd and Noelle are both characters with some obsessive tendencies. What other similarities do they share, and in what ways are they different? Were you able to sympathize with either or both of them?
10. In chapters from Ellie’s perspective, she repeatedly brings up the subject of blame, thinking of all the moments that led to what happened to her and what she “should” have done differently, or what others could have done to save her. As you read, did you find yourself blaming characters for the unforeseen consequences of the choices they made? If so, in which situations?
11. At the end of the book, Laurel notes that she “hasn’t told Poppy the full truth” (page 351) about everything that happened. Do you think she ever will? How would Poppy react to learning the secrets of her background?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Then She Was Gone references in an excerpt from Ellie’s diary, Alice Sebold’s novel The Lovely Bones, another story about a young teenager who goes missing and the fallout of her unsolved disappearance on her family. Consider making The Lovely Bones your next book club read and discussing what parallels you find between the two novels, and what distinguishes them.
2. Both Noelle and Floyd talk about the lasting impact unpleasant aspects of their childhoods had on them, yet Floyd and Laurel both seem optimistic about Poppy’s resiliency and ability to thrive despite the disturbing background of her early years. Consider how you think being raised by Noelle and Floyd may have shaped Poppy. Choose an age, fifteen or older, and imagine what Poppy will be like then. Write a short story about her that touches on how she has grown and whether she has moved past the traumatic circumstances of her youth. Share with your reading group and compare your impressions of how Poppy will develop.
3. Check out more of Lisa Jewell’s books, such as I Found You and The Girls in the Garden. To find out more about Lisa, visit www.facebook.com/LisaJewellofficial, or follow her on Twitter @lisajewelluk.
Lisa Jewell is the internationally bestselling author of eighteen novels, including the New York Times bestseller Then She Was Gone, as well as I Found You, The Girls in the Garden, and The House We Grew Up In. In total, her novels have sold more than two million copies across the English-speaking world and her work has also been translated into sixteen languages so far. Lisa lives in London with her husband and their two daughters. Connect with her on Twitter @LisaJewellUK and on Facebook @LisaJewellOfficial.
“Jewell teases out her twisty plot at just the right pace, leaving readers on the edge of their seats. There will surely be comparisons to novels such as Emma Donoghue’s Room (2010) as well as all of the “Girl” thrillers, but Jewell’s latest really isn’t at all derivative. Her multilayered characters are sheer perfection, and even the most astute thriller reader won’t see where everything is going until the final threads are unknotted. Those few who do guess early won’t mind, as the pace and prose will keep them hooked.”
– Booklist (starred review)
“Jewell gets more riveting and twisty with every book she writes. Completely absorbing, fast-paced, well-written and with a shocking ending that will keep readers guessing, Then She Was Gone is a nearly pitch-perfect thriller. Fans of Gillian Flynn, Paula Hawkins and Ruth Ware are sure to adore this haunting novel.”
– Shelf Awareness
“More than a whiff of The Lovely Bones wafts through this haunting domestic noir from bestseller Jewell…Skillfully told by several narrators, Jewell’s gripping novel is an emotionally resonant story of loss, grief, and renewal.”
– Publishers Weekly
"For thriller readers, Jewell's latest will not disappoint. Sharply written with twists and turns, it will please fans of Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, or Luckiest Girl Alive."
– Library Journal
“In addition to being a complex and genuinely suspenseful narrative, Then She Was Gone is a rich study of the ways in which people respond to grief and how past trauma can continue to shape their decision-making and relationships years or decades later. Readers will be truly affected by Ellie’s real story once it’s revealed—and they’ll be satisfied by the hopeful yet bittersweet ending. Jewell demonstrates once again that she has what it takes to genuinely shock, surprise and move her readers.”
– Book Reporter
"What begins as a story about the mother of a missing girl starting a new relationship as she comes terms with her grief morphs into a gripping, disturbing and utterly fascinating tale about what really happened to young Ellie Mack. I've been a Lisa Jewell fan for a long time and in this book, as in all her others, she deftly weaves a compelling plot with an emotional depth that leaves you gasping. In Then She Was Gone she has created a book that is dark and claustrophobic but also heartfelt and moving. Then She Was Gone packs a huge emotional punch that will leave you winded. I loved it."
– C.L. Taylor, bestselling author
"If you were the first of your friends to read Girl On The Train, and have read Gone Girl more times than you can remember, then here is your summer read. A thriller about a 15-year-old girl who has vanished and a mother who won’t give up hope. A perfect Pimm’s companion."
– The Sun (UK)
"Smart and engrossing."
– Sunday Mirror (UK)
"A dark, compulsive psychological thriller, yet one which is also uplifting and tender. I absolutely loved Then She Was Gone."
– Rachel Rhys, author of Dangerous Crossing
"Jewell has departed from chick lit and gone full tilt into a psycho thriller, but she’s lost none of her brilliance… Deeply emotional and incredibly clever. Bravo."
– Mail Online
Praise for I Found You:
“Lisa Jewell is a brilliant storyteller, creating suspenseful yet believable novels time and again. I Found You is no exception—filled with intriguing characters connected in startling ways. Quickly paced yet delicately nuanced, this novel is sure to appeal to fans of Big Little Lies and The Woman in Cabin 10.”
– Shelf Awareness (starred review)
"Jewell is a wonderful storyteller. Her characters are believable, her writing is strong and poetic, and her narrative is infused with just enough intrigue to keep the pages turning. Readers of Liane Moriarty, Paula Hawkins, and Ruth Ware will love."
– Library Journal (starred review)
“How [the] plots intersect and finally collide is one of the great thrills of reading Jewell’s book. She ratchets up the tension masterfully, and her writing is lively.”
– New York Times Book Review
"Jewell keeps the reader guessing."
– New York Post, Required Reading column
“The structure keeps the suspense level high, and Jewell manages surprising revelations all the way up to the ending. The mix of women’s fiction and suspense—plus a no-nonsense 40-something heroine at the heart of the story—makes this a good fit for fans of Liane Moriarty.”
“Riveting…numerous twists avoid predictability, and the novel is well-paced as it weaves three narratives together. Dark and moody, this is a mystery with substance.”
– Kirkus Reviews
"One word: wow! This latest offering from Jewell starts off strong and keeps readers riveted until the very last word…this book is ‘unreliable narrator’ at its best!"
– RT Book Reviews
“Jewell is a genuinely original and skilled novelist with an impressive flair for deftly crafted narratives and surprising plot development.”
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