This review may contain mild spoilers but will not talk in detail about any important plot points. I bought this book second hand from a used book sale sometime last year and just got around to reading it. The book is about a girl called Emma, who is the last person to see her childhood best friend, Abby, before Abby goes missing. The book is centred around Emma trying to find out what happened to Abby while also trying not to let the unsavoury circumstances in her past (that led to her “abandoning” Abby and moving to a different school) bleed through into her present. Check out the Goodreads page here.
Let me start by saying that I read this book many, many years ago but only remembered vague details about it. When I found it again at a used book sale last year I decided on a whim to get it and reread it. I remember enjoying it quite a lot when I was younger, and I also enjoyed my reread of it. It deals with topics that I am familiar with in real life, and indeed topics that I think most teenagers have first or second hand knowledge of, which perhaps is why it resonated so well with me.
Missing Abby is told through the perspective of Emma, a 13 year old girl who really wants to fit in with her peers. She was recently moved to a new school and made two good friends, and spends her time talking about boys/fashion/celebs etc. Emma is also a bit of a geek in that she’s a fan of star wars and fantasy worlds; however, she’s determined to keep that side of her in the past because she’s sure her new friends will just think it’s weird. Emma meets her ex best friend (Abby) briefly on the bus for the first time since Emma left her old school (the school that Abby still attends) a year ago. This also happens to be the same day that Abby disappears, and so Emma teams up with Abby’s new friends to find out what happened.
The book seemed to really embody the tone often used by pre-teen/teen girls, likely because it is told first person by Emma. The book is pretty dramatic in places, with a large emphasis on the importance of fitting in with her friends and not standing out at school. It has a very informal style, much like you’d expect to find in a diary. I rather enjoyed this style as it felt very much like we were able to see into Emma’s head and feel things with her. Everything seemed so important and life changing to her, and in many ways it was a stark reminder of how it felt to be 13 years old and on the cusp of adolescence when you are not the head of the “popular gang” at school.
Throughout the book, Emma makes references to a particular “incident” that happened at her old school, an incident which led to her begging her father to allow her to change schools. We aren’t told what exactly this incident is until much later in the book, although the snippets that Emma provides for us make it clear that she and Abby were victims of bullying and, while Abby “stayed strong” and refused to show that she was affected by this (Emma later wonders if she truly was as strong as she made out to be), Emma was unable to just ignore the increasingly hostile situations. This final incident leads to her departure from the school.
Emma seems to have tried desperately hard to leave her past behind her and to change herself in order to fit in better. While this isn’t a good message to be giving readers – for you should never try to change who you are because of other people’s intolerance or hatefulness – these attempts are eventually resolved and throughout the book I empathised immensely with Emma. However, Emma is very abrupt in her meeting with Abby, and barely wants to talk to her about anything, let alone Abby’s new interest, Dungeons & Dragons. At this point of the book, we don’t know what has happened between Abby and Emma, and I felt immensely sorry for Abby who seemed to be genuinely trying so hard to engage with Emma and get her friend back. Later, when Emma reveals more about what had happened, I felt so much for both girls.
Emma’s relationship with Abby’s new D&D friends evolves throughout the course of the book. While at first they were wary and standoffish (perhaps because they had only heard Abby’s side of the story, where Emma left the school and never spoke to her again), they warm to Emma more when it becomes clear that she is suffering too. The five teens band together to try and find out what had happened to Abby, and they seem to bond a little through the ordeal. Emma’s friendship with her two closest friends at her new school is also shown very well; even through rough patches the girls stick together and care for each other and I really appreciated that.
In keeping with the reading spreadsheet I made for myself this year, I wanted to talk a little about representation in the book. I’m under the impression that it had no POC or LGBT rep (although I may have overlooked/forgotten a detail that proves these assumptions wrong – if this is the case, please tell me). In my mind, there was strong female rep in Missing Abby: Abby, for her strength in ignoring the taunting she endured, and for holding onto her interests and hobbies even when she was cruelly mocked for them; and Emma, Gail and Sheila (both of whom were Abby’s new friends) for trying so desperately hard to find out what had happened to Abby. There is potential mental health rep also, as Emma shows signs of anxiety or maybe even PTSD related to the bullying episodes. This is never stated for sure in the book however so it’s just my opinion.
One thing I wasn’t a fan of was that counselling wasn’t portrayed particularly well in the book. Emma’s stepmother is training to be a child psychologist and at one point suggests to Emma’s father that Emma might benefit from seeing a counsellor to talk through her feelings on the subject of Abby’s disappearance. This is a really sensible idea as Emma is obviously struggling somewhat, but she is horrified by the thought. These feelings probably stem from the fact that Emma’s dad can’t think of anything worse that having a child who has to attend therapy. Although he does back down eventually and suggests it to Emma (albeit very reluctantly and obviously against the idea), Emma says no, clearly to his relief. Therapy isn’t a bad thing and it certainly doesn’t mean that something is “wrong with you”, which is how I think Emma’s dad saw it. Simply being able to talk about the events and her feelings could’ve helped Emma tremendously, and I am slightly sad that it was seen as a terrible suggestion and almost offensive of the stepmother to come up with the idea.
Overall, I thought the book was pretty well written and a good story. I think seeing things from Emma’s POV was important and helped to strike more of a bond with her. Topics were dealt with sensitively and well, and I’m glad I reread it. I’d give Missing Abby 3/5 stars, and would recommend it to people who enjoy slightly younger YA novels with missing people and teens doing teen things and also trying to solve mysteries. I’m using this book as #49 in the POPSUGAR 2017 Reading Challenge – a book you got from a used book sale.
As I said several times, the theme of bullying runs throughout this book. Bullying is a serious matter that can really harm a child or young person’s self esteem and impact on their youth and later life. I will leave a few links to resources on bullying here. If you are a victim of bullying, or know someone who is, it is vital that you seek help from a trusted adult. Not everyone will be able to help but there will always be someone who cares, someone who will fight your corner. I hope everyone who finds themselves in the same situation as Emma and Abby can find someone to turn to. Note that these resources will be centred around the UK as that’s where I live.
The National Bullying Helpline (phone number: 0845 22 55 787 or 07734 701221)
Childline – These guys are great and I really recommend them. You can call them on 0800 1111 or you can have a chat with a Childline counsellor online. They are confidential (you don’t have to give your name or any details about yourself if you don’t want to) and they will talk to you and help you work out what to do. I have personal experience with Childline and they are informative and lovely.