Publisher: Random House Children's Books
When Wendy Geller's body is found in Central Park after the night of a rager, newspaper headlines scream,"Death in the Park: Party Girl Found Strangled." But shy Rain, once Wendy's best friend, knows there was more to Wendy than just "party girl." As she struggles to separate the friend she knew from the tangle of gossip and headlines, Rain becomes determined to discover the truth about the murder. Written in a voice at once immediate, riveting, and utterly convincing, Mariah Frederick's mystery brilliantly exposes the cracks in this exclusive New York City world and the teenagers that move within it.
(Highlight to view Spoilers)
By page 4 of The Girl in The Park I knew with absolute certainty that, even if I hated the story and the mystery just sucked, I would be shown why and not told. I read the conversations between Rain and her mother, then Rain and Ms. Geller over again a few times to be certain that it really had been only four pages, yet I already knew so much about Wendy, Rain, and their relationships with each other and their mothers. Fredericks has honed down her words until each and every one pack a potent visual punch. The novel rushes forward but never let me behind. It was thoughtful and thought-provoking, moody and suspenseful, disturbing yet ultimately uplifting. Rain succeeds in her attempt to discover Wendy's murderer; but the most important discovery she makes is herself.
I am so impressed by so much of what Fredericks has done in The Girl in The Park. There are moments that feel so very dark and bleak, but the tone of the book as a whole is much more complex because - at its core - the book is honest. I love the way Fredericks deals with Rain's disability and the long lasting influence it has on how she views herself. How Wendy and Rain's friendship develops, grows, changes, then fades away. I like that Rain never really has a love interest because she hasn't yet learned to love herself. I am awed by how well she shows all the varying aspects of Wendy's character without invalidating the others. Fredericks' characters are almost entirely shades of grey.
The mystery, too, was very well executed (except, perhaps, for the bad-guy-explains-it-all monologue toward the end.) There is successful foreshadowing - hints and clues that keep us one step (but only one step) ahead of Rain in pursuit of the murderer. As for that honesty mentioned earlier? It is shown in the suspects to full effect. Fredericks doesn't rely on last minute character assassination, previously unknown redemptive traits suddenly revealed, or a good guy just grossly misunderstood - everyone remains as they ever were. I love that Fredericks shows that just because someone is a thoroughly nasty jerk does not necessarily mean they are capable of murder, and (Slightly Spoilery) nor does being interesting and charming preclude one from that capability. (End Spoiler) It may seem a bit grandiose to say this, but as I thought about what I would write in this review of The Girl in The Park, I kept coming back to some things I've heard Sister Helen Prejean and Vincent Harding say about justice, revenge and vengeance; about how the quest for each can become something just as dark as the original act and should never be what gives your life meaning. Fredericks does a wonderful job of showing Rain find meaning for her life within herself - and that is a powerful thing for a who-done-it.
My mom doesn't know what it's like to be less than perfect, how people zoom in on that until it's all they see. Maybe because it weirds them out...or maybe because it makes them feel better about themselves. People do pretty ugly things to make themselves feel better, this I do know.
Wendy is still dead. I hadn't understood before: it really doesn't bring them back. Somehow, you think, despite what you know, it will be a trade. Find the person who did the wrong thing and they will suffer instead of the one who was killed. Instead, that person just suffers too.
ARC provided by Random House Children's Books.
Review also appears on Goodreads