A decades-old mystery of a missing six-year-old haunts a family for generations
In 1935, six-year-old Emily Evans vanishes from her family’s vacation home on a remote Minnesota lake. Her disappearance destroys the family – her father takes his own life, and her mother and two older sisters spend the rest of their lives at the lake house, keeping a decades-long vigil for the lost child. Sixty years later, Lucy, the quiet and watchful middle sister, lives in the lake house alone. Before her death, she writes the story of that devastating summer in a notebook that she leaves, along with the house, to the only person who might care: her grandniece, Justine. For Justine, the lake house oﬀers freedom and stability – a way to escape her manipulative boyfriend and give her daughters the home she never had. But the long Minnesota winter is just beginning. e house is cold and dilapidated. e dark, silent lake is isolated and eerie. Her only neighbor is a strange old man who seems to know more about the summer of 1935 than he’s telling.
Soon Justine’s troubled oldest daughter becomes obsessed with Emily’s disappearance, her mother arrives to steal her inheritance, and the man she left launches a dangerous plan to get her back. In a house haunted by the sorrows of the women who came before her, Justine must overcome their tragic legacy if she hopes to save herself and her children.
HEATHER YOUNG is the author of two novels. Her debut, The Lost Girls, won the Strand Award for Best First Novel and was nominated for an Edgar Award. Her second novel, The Distant Dead has also been nominated for the 2021 Edgar Award for Best Novel. A former antitrust and intellectual property litigator, she traded the legal world for the literary one and earned her MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars in 2011. She lives in Mill Valley, California, where she writes, bikes, hikes, and reads books by other people that she wishes she’d written.
Q & A with author Heather Young
1. Who do you think is your ideal reader?
Oh, good question! I’m grateful to everyone who picks up my book and keeps
turning the pages. I think the people most likely to do that are people who like slow-building, tense stories that dive deep into their characters and explore the reasons why they behave the way they do. In other words, people who like the psychological aspect of psychological thrillers.
2. What books and authors inspired you?
Mystery writers who create vivid, well-rounded characters, like Kate Atkinson and Tana French, and literary writers like Marilynne Robinson and Kazuo Ishiguro who render complex emotions with understated language. I will never write as well as any of these folks, of course, but I think reading them does help me write a little better.
3. What is your favorite place to read?
Twenty years ago, my husband and I bought an old Victorian house that needed a lot of work. At the end of the renovation, I asked my father, a lawyer by day and carpenter by night, to build me a library so I would finally have a place to put all the books I’d been lugging around in boxes since I was twenty. He built me a masterpiece, a true Edgar Allen Poe Victorian book lair. It’s my favorite place to read and write.
4. How has the pandemic affected your reading (and writing) habits?
I found it very difficult to focus on reading — the stress and uncertainty that hung over everything murdered my attention span. I typically read 40-50 books a year, and in 2020 I think I read five. 2021 has been much better, thank goodness. The same went for writing, although there the problem was that my husband and college-student son were suddenly working and studying in the rooms where I liked to write. But my son eventually went back to college and my husband I have worked out our respective workspaces, so that’s been better, too.
5. As a writer what drew you to the genre your book is in?
I’ve always been a mystery reader, but I have to say I didn’t really see The Lost Girls as a mystery until my publisher started promoting it that way. To me it was a book about family, and how secrets and misguided loyalties can poison the lives of generations. I do think, though, that crafting a story around a murder is a great way to expose who your characters really are behind their polite facades. What makes an otherwise ordinary person commit the most heinous of crimes? What makes someone else keep the truth about that crime a secret? Loyalties, debts, regrets, pride, selfishness – all of these play a part, and they’re all heightened when there’s a murder involved.
6. When planning your next book do you do lots of research in advance or do you do that as needed?
For the most part I research as I go. That’s what’s great about the internet; I can pause in the middle of a sentence and look up what bathing suits were like in the 1930s. Also, if I’m feeling blocked, I can put my novel on hold while I read a book about the Great Depression or comb through the Bible for verses my Puritanical character can obsess over, and still feel like I’m making progress.
7. And finally, are you currently working on a new book and if so, can you say anything about it?
Yes! My next novel is set in a small town in Iowa during the second world war. Like The Lost Girls, it’s something of a coming of age story, as a young girl confronts prejudice and the dark side of patriotism as a member of an “outsider” family. Throw in the murders of several young Mexican orphans and her brother’s secret life and I hope I end up with something that offers a slightly different perspective on World War II than those of the many excellent novels I’ve read that examine this era.
Thank you so much to Heather for answering my questions and giving us all a glimpse into her life and work.