Missing by Sue Whiting
Walker Books, 2018, ISBN 9781760650032
(Age: 13+) Highly recommended. Themes: Missing persons, Panama, Rainforests, Family Life. Missing is a frank, emotionally heartfelt teen novel that explores the impact of a mother's disappearance wreaks on a family. Mackenzie da Luca's is preparing for her Year 6 graduation, looking forward to her mother, a bat biologist returning from a trip to Boquete in Panama in time to buy her a special dress. Each chapter begins with a portent, a moment in time for Mackenzie, changing from past to present, a place and a countdown, eg:
25 March, Boquete, Panama
Missing 117 days
Whiting's passionate story is driven by an intensity that drives each character. Mackenzie's father still reeling from his wife's uncertain fate, drags his daughter from her bed in the early morning secretly takes them to the airport for a long and arduous journey. Her Nan is equally determined, she wants closure, a memorial service to honour her daughter Maggie and for her granddaughter and son-in-law to move forward in their lives. Theirs is the tragic reality of the unknown. Dad becomes dangerously ill with typhoid and Mackenzie and her new friend Carlo are forced to continue to canvas the townsfolk, searching for anyone who has sighted the missing biologist. A postcard supposedly sent by her mother and the last messages and photos from a parade in Boquete help Mackenzie struggle with her despair. She desperately hangs onto anything to believe that her mother is still alive; then resourcefully and courageously journeys up into the mountains and into the dense rainforest in search of answers.
What a driven narrative, Whiting keeps the tension at a high level throughout, adding past reminiscences, lighter moments, Carlo's secret tortilla business, to balance the sadder notes.
Richly descriptive, Whiting bring the town of Boquete, the sights, sounds, animals and experiences of the jungle and landscape to life. As we are drawn to the ultimate revelation, there is both a sensitivity and a reality shown in Mackenzie's emotional experiences. She has a dogged belief her mum is in the witness protection program, then explodes with fury when faced with the truth. Missing is a powerful story, demanding, confronting at times, one that will resonate long after the reader has finished.