Finally…the catch-up begins…
Norma Fox Mazer, Missing Pieces (Avon, 1995)
The only reason I had any idea who Norma Fox Mazer was when I was going through a box of my wife’s books from her junior high and high school years was that way back when I was knee-high to a grasshopper, Mazer has co-written a teen thriller with husband Harry called The Solid Gold Kid. Looking back on it, the parts I remember about it were cheesy as hell (a romance subplot developing between two teens who have been abducted? Really? Even I wasn’t that horny when I was 15!), but at the time, that book was, if you’ll excuse the pun, solid gold. So when I found Missing Pieces in the stack she was planning on sending to Half-Price Books, I kept it out and gave it a go. I wasn’t as enthused about it as School Library Journal (“…brilliant and subtle…”), but it does what it sets out to do, and that counts for something.
Plot: Jessie Wells, 14, has a good home life—mom, aunt (great-aunt, actually), boyfriend, etc.—but what’s missing is dad. Her mother has spun stories about her absent father, and Jessie has embellished those in her head, but the fantasy is no longer enough; she gets the idea that it’s time to track down her father and find out who he really is. Alarm bells are probably already going off in your head; this is teen fiction, after all. But despite warnings, both subtle and not, Jessie’s determination never wavers. In fact, it gets stronger as Aunt Zis, one of the pieces of bedrock in Jessie’s life, slides further into Alzheimer’s. Jessie never verbalizes it, but could she be looking for her father as a substitute for the pseudo-parent she knows she is going to lose soon?
The tagline everyone likes to use for this book, also stolen from that SLJ piece (“a teen seeking her father and finding herself”), is cliché, almost painfully so, but I’m not sure I can find a better way to say that, either. So I’ll go with it. (Cindy Darling Codell, the entire reviewer community owes you big time for that summary of the book.) w, like I said, I haven’t read The Solid Gold Kid in a lotta years, but what I remember of that and what I experienced with this dovetail pretty nicely; Mazer is often as subtle as the proverbial velvet-clad herring to the face, especially when it comes to foreshadowing. This is not as big a problem as it may seem, because she balances the Douglas Sirk-esque melodrama with well-tuned characters placed in generally believable situations. It’s a good book that could have been a great one with a lighter touch. ** ½