SEARCHING FOR SARAH SHAW
It was just before Halloween when I sat down to start this book, and, boom, the mystery component of the plot grabbed me by the shoulders, inspiring me to focus. One Of Us Is Gone by Shauntel Anette is a young adult mystery thriller that had me hooked until the surprise ending made me want to reread it to find all the clues I missed. Then, when you add in Cleo and Sarah’s dual point of views and the fast pace of the prose, everything put together worked to make this novel a bona fide must-read that’ll keep you turning the pages nonstop.
As for this in-depth book review, there won’t be spoilers since the best part is reading all the details as you go. For me, these details made me consider losing sleep to find out what happened next. It’s this effect making the book get better as the plot unfolds. So, I’m focusing on the way the dual point of views work to hook you with the plot’s whodunnit aspect. It starts with Cleo worrying about where Sarah could be following the first day she realizes Sarah’s missing, next the author takes you back to two weeks ago setting up the intrigue for what may have happened to Sarah, then we come back to Cleo for the start of her investigation, creating the unputdownable feeling that lasts until the last page.
From the very start of Cleo’s narrative, you get the sense that something’s off since Sarah isn’t at Cleo’s dorm on Monday morning, especially because Sarah’s in the same class with Cleo. Then it gets more interesting when Sarah doesn’t show up at all. And like a bestie, after class, Cleo dashes to Sarah’s dorm. Once she’s there, the author shows Cleo’s anxiety by having her narrate, “When I approach Sarah’s door, I freeze… My heart echoes in my ears with loud, demanding thuds. It’s hard to breathe” (5). Next, it gets intriguing when Cleo finally gets the courage to turn the doorknob, “revealing the destruction of what used to be Sarah’s room. The pale cinder block, barred windows, and the musty smell of cheap paint and mothballs remains. But there are balled-up pieces of paper littering the floor like confetti. Both beds are thrown, leaning on each other for support. Taking a step further inside, I notice Sarah’s bin of clothes across the room, partially emptied” (5-6). The way Ms. Anette shows the room through Cleo’s eyes is so compelling, you’re inspired to read more.
Because of the way Shauntel leaves you intrigued with Sarah’s room, you naturally wonder what happened, and Anette doesn’t disappoint by immediately showing you what happened two weeks ago, but it’s the choice of having this part narrated by Sarah that solidifies the effect, maintaining the intrigue built by the end of chapter one. Right away, you can feel the bestie energy Sarah has for Cleo, but you also get the sense that Sarah likes to party because she’s picking up Cleo to head to the dorm party, but is also annoyed she had to wait for Cleo. However, the interesting part happens when Sarah sneaks out of the party and “goes into the dorm next door” (9). It’s at this moment when you meet Aris, a person who no one from her friend group knows. He’s a small-time weed dealer, who Sarah buys edibles from. Of course, edibles are harmless, but it’s what happens next that makes the character Aris the first suspect, making the story more compelling. After Sarah gets her weed infused chocolate chip cookies, she narrates, “I turn to flee before my friends detect my absence. Cleo especially. But before I can cross the threshold, Aris intercepts, blocking my exit… my trembling hands almost drop both cookies. My heart sinks as I stare back into his grave eyes… am I in danger?” (10). The foreboding question is a masterful touch by the author because by combining this effect with the effect of chapter one’s end, you can’t avoid hearing the dun-dun-duuun in your mind.
With two chapters in the rearview, chapter three pushes the gas pedal further down. At the start of the chapter, Ms. Anette puts you back in Sarah’s mess of a dorm with Cleo. By doing this, it lets Cleo show more about the friend group you met in the previous chapters. The interesting part is that when she asks them if they’ve seen Sarah, the friends who weren’t in the main trio send Cleo snarky and sarcastic replies, but instead of suspecting them, Cleo thinks they’re just being childish. But it feels like Cleo’s so distraught about Sarah’s dorm that she has no time to consider anything except figuring out why Sarah’s dorm is in disarray; this inspires Cleo to narrate, “I try to find any sign that I’m, in fact, in Sarah’s room, but there’s nothing that belongs to her. The most I can identify are scraps of clothing and textbooks that could’ve been hers or her roommate’s” (11). At this point, you’re seeing the red flags waving all over the room with Cleo, which intensifies the moment, compelling you to continue reading. Then it happens, Cleo finds a note that makes the red flags start to wave fiercely because the note “reads: “don’t trust anyone, not even me” (12). With the mystery of Sarah’s disappearance intensifying, Cleo fills in some of the new additions to her friend group, but they brush off Cleo’s worry and try to make Cleo think she’s overreacting. This makes Cleo reveal how she feels when she narrates, “I’m stuck, not sure how to process their disregard. I can’t help but suspect what they’re not telling me. The note I found in Sarah’s room echoes in my mind as if it were meant for me: don’t trust anyone” (14). By ending chapter three this way, the author’s effect is an undeniable eeriness that hooks you.
The 72-Hours Are Over
It only gets better from there! The pace is blistering throughout the book. To keep you compelled to read more, the short chapters work perfectly. The ensuing investigation by trio members, Cleo and Milton, solidifies the story as a page-turner. The overall effect makes you feel like you’re investigating with them, especially since Cleo is the narrator and she doesn’t know as much about Sarah as the others do. Sarah’s chapters intensify this effect since she’s able to show you what she was going through, leading up to her disappearance; they also show you the other side of the story you’re reading about in Cleo’s chapters.
The twists and turns of Cleo’s investigation makes you think anyone inside or outside the group could be guilty. As soon as you think you have an idea who’s the prime suspect, just like the characters, everything changes and leads end up as dead ends. Another compelling factor of this novel is the authentic display of the friendships and frenemies, they’ll have you remembering all the things college freshman do in their first semester that let you know they’re still crawling out of their high school phase, one baby step at a time. By putting all of this together, Ms. Anette created a gripping novel that shows these steps can lead you down a path lined with signs of flashing red letters saying, No U-turns Allowed.
Thank you for reading our in-depth book review about One of Us Is Gone by Shauntel Anette. We are not affiliated with the publisher, but here’s the link to pick up a copy.
E. R. Sanchez is the author of Fried Potato Press’ first young adult thriller, Petaco Dreams, which will be released Fall 2024 after the rewrite, new title and cover. He also has poems and stories published online and in print. If you’d like to read his work that was published online, please click here to go to his Stories and Poetry Section.