Random House for Young Readers, 320 pages, $17.99
Scarlett, the heroine of the story, is seventeen years old. She lives with her sister, brother and father. When she was eight or so, she was taken from her home and held as a household servant/slave in a brothel until she was twelve. (The author makes it clear that Scarlett was just a maid, not a child prostitute, thus differentiating it from the more graphic adult versions of similar stories.)
After she was returned to her family, she tried hard to bury her sad past and to create new bonds with her siblings. Seven-year-old Matthew loves her and is no problem. Melody, now about fifteen, was distinctly cool and unwelcoming from the start. It has been an uphill battle to win her regard. But like Prometheus, the battle seems to roll uphill forever.
Scarlett has just begun a job with Five Banners amusement park (a Six Flags lookalike). For the first time since returning, she makes friends, belongs to a group of teenage coworkers and starts to have peer-appropriate fun. Then one of her coworkers, a teenager she barely knew, disappears. She’s become a member of the “club,” Scarlett sadly muses.
Melody becomes friendly with several of Scarlett’s coworkers, and one especially, Katharina, catches her attention. Is it just Scarlett’s heightened sensitivity to danger, or is Katharina a little too edgy? (Just because you think someone is after you doesn’t mean it’s not true.) Or is she slowly going crazy? (She stopped going to a therapist, even though many issues were unresolved.)
At a little past the halfway point in the book, if memory serves, the book begins a roller coaster ride (in honor, no doubt, of the thundering roller coaster that travels over the grounds where Scarlett works), building slowly to a sudden drop-off into Crazyville. Part of the emotional release is reliant on a concomitant storyline, that of Scarlett as the young victim in her new “home.”
“Stepmother” is what she called the woman who made her clean the house after the brothel’s business was done. Stepmother locked her in the basement when she was not working. Although she was fed and allowed to occasionally clean herself, Scarlett is desperately lonely. To remedy that, Stepmother acquires another little girl, Pixie. Scarlett and Pixie are in the same boat but are not made of the same stuff. Pixie seeks every opportunity to escape and endures the wicked punishment when she fails.
Of course, it is not until near the end of the book that we learn what happened to Pixie and Scarlett. It was truly unexpected, and perhaps not in a wholly satisfying way. Nevertheless, author Amanda Panitch’s slow progression in ratcheting up the tension was well done. Her characterization of the older Scarlett and her attempt and desire to be normal again is poignant. “Never Missing, Never Found” was a pretty good thriller, both for young adults and old adults.