'Stay with Me' a heart-wrenching tale of disappearance

McClatchy News ServiceJuly 16, 2014 

"Stay with Me" by Alison Gaylin; Harper (384 pages, $5.99)

Teenage angst, adult obsession and family secrets fuse into a suspenseful plot that holds its myriad surprises right up until the final page in "Stay with Me," Alison Gaylin's third novel about private investigator Brenna Spector.

Since she was 11 years old, Brenna Spector has been afflicted "or 'blessed,' depending on your opinion" with hyperthymestic syndrome, a rare disorder that gives her perfect autobiographical memory. Being able to remember every moment of every day helps Brenna as a private investigator but wreaks havoc on her personal life. This is especially true because the one part of her memory that is blank is when her sister, Clea, disappeared at age 17, more than 28 years ago. That disappearance triggered Brenna's hyperthymesia. Through the years, Brenna has tried to find out what happened to her sister - is she still alive, or did she die, as so many runaways do. This obsession has seeped into every part of Brenna's life. But she never knew how this affected her 13-year-old daughter, Maya, until the teenager disappears.

Brenna and Maya have had a close relationship, but the mother is about to find out how little she knows about her child. Drawing on her skills as a private investigator, Brenna discovers aspects about Maya she didn't know. Maya has kept from her mother a group of new friends, mean girls, a crush on a boy and a resentment about her mother's obsession over Clea. As Brenna tries to find her daughter, she also faces some unpleasant truths about her missing sister.

Alison Gaylin's third novel about Brenna delivers a gripping plot and an emotional roller coaster as the author delves deep into the psyche and motives of her characters. Brenna's heart-wrenching search for her daughter is matched by the poignant effect Clea's disappearance had on her and a realistic look at family dynamics that leads to a stunning ending.

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