When Nicolette Farrell receives a phone call from her brother, Daniel, with the news that their father is declining, she immediately heads back to her hometown of Cooley Ridge. Although she has established a new life elsewhere and is engaged to a successful young attorney, her homecoming causes memories of her adolescence and the mysterious disappearance of her friend Corinne Prescott ten years earlier to come flooding back. As Nicolette runs into the people from her past—her ex-boyfriend Tyler, her old friend Bailey, and Corinne’s high school boyfriend Jackson—she ruminates on the fateful days that changed the course of each of their lives and realizes that she is inextricably tethered to the people and place she thought she had left behind. When the woman that Nic’s ex-boyfriend has been seeing suddenly goes missing during her stay, Nicolette can’t help but search for the connection between the two disappearances. In a mind-bending twist, the story of Nicolette’s return to Cooley Ridge is told in reverse, keeping readers on the edge of their seats until the very last page is turned. This tale of buried secrets and a “town full of liars” cleverly explores the distance that people will go to protect those they love and poses haunting questions about the powerful grip the past can have on us and how well we can really know other people—and ourselves.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Consider the epigraphs printed ahead of each part of the story. Why do you think the author chose these epigraphs? What do they reveal about the major themes of the book, and how do they help to unify the various sections?
2. Who narrates the story? Is he or she a reliable narrator? Why or why not? How do the choices in narration support a dialogue about how we come to understand or believe the stories we are told and how we determine what is or is not the truth? For instance, how might our understanding of the story be different if the author had chosen to employ more than one narrator or a different narrator?
3. Why does Nicolette Farrell return to Cooley Ridge? What is her experience of homecoming like? What seems to be the same about the town and the people in it and what seems to be different? How has Nicolette changed or not changed since her time growing up in Cooley Ridge?
4. Consider the motifs of myth and superstition in the story. Who is the monster in the woods? What does the story seem to suggest about how myth and superstition shape our fears and sense of what is—and is not—menacing?
5. Who is responsible for the disappearance of Corinne Prescott? Explain. How are the victims of each disappearance treated? How do the people in town react to their disappearances? What roles do reputation, gossip, opinion seem to play in the investigations?
6. Why do you think the author chose to tell the story in reverse? How did the reverse telling of the story affect your interpretation of the situation and your assessment of the characters therein?
7. Evaluate the theme of truth in the story. What lies do the characters tell, and why do they tell them? Do you feel that any of the lies were justified? What role does perspective seem to play in the determination of what is true and what is not?
8. Everett says that people can change, but Nicolette seems to believe that people do not change in any substantial way. Does the book ultimately suggest who is right? Do you agree? Explain.
9. How would you characterize the relationship that Corinne had with the other characters? How did each of the characters seem to feel about Corinne? How do we know this? What does Nicolette reveal about Corinne that gives us insight we might not otherwise have? How does this point of view—and the point of view of the other characters—shape or influence your assessment of Corinne’s fate?
10. Evaluate the themes of morality and the dual nature of humans. Can readers distinguish who is a “good” or “bad” character as the story unravels or at the book’s conclusion, or is a more complex view of morality presented? Explain. What motivates the characters to make the moral choices they each make? Do you feel that they made the right choices? Discuss.
11. What does the book seem to suggest about how well we can know others? What does the story indicate about the way we come to “know” another person? What influences our assessments of others and what prevents us from knowing other people—and ourselves—better?
12. What does Nicolette say is most necessary and essential to our survival? Do you agree with her? Why or why not?
13. At the conclusion of the story, what does Nicolette say defines home? Is her concept of what makes a home surprising? Do you agree with her definition? Explain.
14. Evaluate the theme of memory in the book. Are the memories of the characters reliable? Why or why not? What does this suggest about the way that time influences our perspective and how the past affects our future?
15. Since the majority of the action takes place in Nicolette’s memory, how does the author create suspense and tension? What are some of the most surprising elements of plot and character and why are they surprising? Were you surprised by the conclusion of the book? Why or why not? How did your opinion of each of the characters change by the story’s end