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Sunday, January 22, 2012

In Search of the Rose Notes, by Emily Arsenault ($14.99)

After 16-year-old Rose Banks disappears one day, the children she leaves behind are shaken. Nora and Charlotte are the 11-year-olds she babysat, and eventually the emotions churned up by Rose's disappearance affect their friendship and they part ways. Sixteen years later, a skeleton is recovered. Nora hears about it and returns to her small hometown, to Charlotte and her other childhood acquaintances, to determine what the discovery means to her and the others.

This is not a thriller. There are no shoot-em-ups, wild chase scenes, or crazed murderers roaming the street. There's a lot of introspection and reflection, and there are secrets. Emily Arsenault's book moves slowly as the layers of assumption and mistrust are peeled away. There is a resolution. I was afraid there might not be one, as Nora seesawed between not wanting to know what happened to Rose and needing to clear her conscience from believing that there was something she should have done to save Rose.

It was more confusing than elucidating, but Arsenault intersperses her present-time tale with a flashback of young Nora and Charlotte pouring over the Time-Life series on the supernatural. They and Rose experiment on themselves and have discussions of what the various alleged phenomena might mean. In fact, Nora is discovered to have some sort of psychic "talent," but that wasn't specifically developed, except perhaps in an oblique way. After Rose disappears, the books take on a different meaning. Charlotte plays psychic detective by using the various techniques mentioned in the books to find out what happened to her.

Maybe the girls are supposed to be comforted by thinking that if Rose is dead, she still has a "presence" somewhere or that Rose can still communicate what really happened to her. Or, worse yet, maybe there's a supernatural explanation. Rose believes in aliens, it turns out, and perhaps she has been kidnapped by one.

All in all, In Search of the Rose Notes is a thoughtful book and distinguishes itself favorably from what seems like an onslaught off recent books involving young women with suppressed or forgotten memories from their childhood. 

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