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I have been meaning to pick up one of Laura McHugh's books for some time. She sounded like a cross between two of my favorite writers, Maegan Abbott and Daniel Woodrell, with distinct voice that examines women in desperate situations against a backdrop that believably depicts the underbelly of rural life (particularly in my home state of Missouri.) I took the opportunity when her latest, Safe And Sound came out and was not disappointed.

McHugh braids two timeliness and and with two cousins for an involving thriller. Amelia Crow scrapes up tips at the Waffle House and waits for sister Kylee to graduate high school so they can put their town of Beaumont in their rearview mirror. Her older cousin, Grace attempted to do the same, but one night while babysitting Amelia and Kylee vanished one night with only a a very bloody kitchen as evidence. Near the anniversary of incident, a discovery of human remains and some new info send the two on an amatueur investigation, upturning secrets in the town and their family. We also go back and the last couple of months before the incident. She works to get a scholarship, fights with her mother who. feels like Grace is abandoning her, and protecting Aelia nand Kylee from a creepy uncle.

McHugh executes the relationship between these girls and Beaumont with pathos and accuracy. Like many living on the margins of a small town, they've had to grow up before their time and maturity of their experience battles with youth's need to experiment and be free. All three fight the inertia of family, boyfriends, and basic expectations. They feel punished for having dreams. Grace's disappearance is often viewed in Beaumont as a warning for girls who fly too high. There is as much suspense involved in wondering if Amelia and Kylee will get out of town together as the mystery of Grace.

The author also believably depicts the relationship between Amelia and Kylee. The two tease, bicker, and lecture one another, often all at once. What humor in the novel often comes from their interactions. And just like siblings, we never have doubt about their loyalty to one another. After grace was gone, they understood they were the only ones they could count on. Only that Beaumont inertia could separate them.

Safe And Sound is a gem of a rural crime novel. The characters and setting breath with an earthy authenticity where still emotions run deep and can explode in sudden violence. Laura McHugh executes a controlled style that is both accessible and poetic. She now has another fan.


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