THE HIDING PLACE tells the story of a family. In the past, this family has suffered an unimaginable loss—their four-year-old son, Justin, was kidnapped and murdered. In the wake of the boy’s death, many things happened. A man was convicted of the crime and sent to prison. Justin’s mother never recovered and died at an early age. Justin’s father became withdrawn and refused to discuss his son’s death. And then there’s Justin’s older sister, Janet. She was with her brother at the park the day he disappeared. She was supposed to be watching him. How does someone live with that kind of guilt? How does someone build a life after experiencing something like that?
It’s not easy. But Janet isn’t a quitter. She’s a fighter. I was very aware of this as I began to write the novel. Readers don’t want to read about quitters. Readers can tolerate a lot of faults in a character. In fact, the best characters can be full of flaws. But readers want to know that a character wants something so much they are willing to lay everything on the line in the process of getting it. Janet is a character like that. And so is her daughter, Ashleigh.
Ashleigh is fifteen. She’s bookish, a little moody, a little withdrawn. Like a lot of teenagers, she doesn’t like to open up to her mother. But she wants to make her mother happy. More than anything else she wants that. When I read from the book in public, I tell people that it may seem strange for me, a man with no daughters, to write about a fifteen-year-old girl. But I also say that young people are fun to write about. Teenagers are reckless—both with their bodies and with their emotions. They let it all hang out, unlike adults who are more cautious and reserved. Ashleigh gets herself into trouble—and she gets out of it. She uses her brains and her wits to navigate the world.
William Faulkner said, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even the past.” The past isn’t dead for these characters. It’s very much alive. There’s guilt and regret and sadness. And, yes, there is hope. There is the hope that comes with fighting and struggling to know the truth. The truth hurts, someone once said. But it also sets us free. THE HIDING PLACE is about the search for the truth about a crime from the past. It’s also about surviving and putting things back together and ultimately going on. It’s the story of a family.
THE HIDING PLACE and CEMETERY GIRL by David Bell