Are beginnings all that discernible from endings? Or do events and memories just pile up and bleed together, leaving one to question how things ended up that way?
In Jan Elizabeth Watson’s second novel, What Has Become of You, Vera Lundy faces just these questions. She is a seemingly accomplished woman—a Princeton grad with 40 years of wisdom—but she is wavering through life. Having recently broken off an engagement and job-hopping for the past decade, Vera has nothing to call her own but a sparse 32-page true-crime manuscript about a killer who impacted her hometown. Hoping to gain some stability, she accepts a long-term substitution position at an all-girl preparatory school in the small town of Dorset, Maine, which is recovering from its own recent murder of a young girl.
Vera sympathizes with Jensen Willard, the school’s outcast, who is equipped with a fierce intellect and a penchant for the macabre. The dark-humored girl reminds Vera of her younger self and the problems she faced growing up, and the two form a small bond. Jensen is a proficient writer—even by prep-school standards—and the intensity of Jensen’s personal essays engrosses Vera, pulling her down the rabbit hole. Soon the darkness within Jensen’s journals become more than a 15-year-old girl blowing of steam, begging the question of how far she will go to refine her craft.
The storyline is sporadic at times, creating more questions than answers, which ultimately works in Watson’s favor and leaves the reader guessing until the very end. Even if the plot leaves something to be desired, stylistically the book soars with smart, well-structured sentences that tantalize the literary senses. This entertaining tale of psychological suspense is perfect for a reader dipping his or her toe into the thriller genre for the first time.