TURNING PAGES: Wake Up Missing, by Kate Messner

Okay, I had the WORST insomnia the other night, and I thought, “Oh, good, I have a couple of books on hand. I’ll just turn on my flashlight like a nine-year-old, and pretend I’m camping.” Which, if you didn’t know, is fairly awesome. I mean, bed-camping. With books and flashlight. The BEST life, yeah?

Well, yeah, but may I suggest that you read a book that won’t SCARE THE CRAP OUT OF YOU in the middle of the night??? This book will freak you out at any time.

If you’re familiar with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest this is the same sort of thing (not as gory, though): a book about institutions and inmates, imbalance of power, the human mind – and, strangely, ethics.

Okay, not that there aren’t usually ethics in middle grade books, but this book brings up a clear-cut question of “just because I can do this, should I?” which has to be thought through by our protagonist, and answered. The author brings up a troubling question for the present-day, modern world about rebooting the past, and trying to correct the wrongs of the past, in order to stay “on top” of some imaginary heap…

This is smart fiction for smart kids, girls AND boys. I love that I learned the real deal about retroviruses (and you’d better believe I looked it up, like any seventh grader worth their salt is going to), genetics, brain science, and DNA. This is edgy fiction for kids who like thrillers. It has action, a fast pace, an uneasy feel, and a few gut-clenching moments where you scream, “No! Don’t go in there! Don’t do it!” Which every proper horror movie and thriller novel should have.

Concerning Character: Poor Cat. She was having a fairly awesome life for a twelve-year-old – living on a houseboat in the SF Bay, watching the Bay birds, and sculpting them from clay – but everything changed when she fell out of a birding platform and got a traumatic brain injury. She can’t even remember what bird she was after that day – just a moment, a fall – and now everything is a mess. Headaches. Irritability. Nausea. Memory loss. And watching her mother’s stress level ratchet up and up and up means that all Cat wants to do is BE NORMAL. Get back on track. Try and make her brain get better so she remembers who and how she was before. So she can go back to her life.

She’s got a long way to go, though. Her journey goes West-by-East. Getting back to herself means going for a course of treatment all the way to Florida, to a brain injury center located in the Everglades. Called I- CAN, it’s the International Center for Advanced Neurology. And isn’t it a pretty, feel-positive name? And yet, there’s no responding lift in Cat’s demeanor. There’s no joy that they take an airboat to the facility — it’s not fun, it’s loud. There’s no leap of interest at meeting Ben, another patient, and his aunt, or the other two kids, Sara and Quentin, who have been at the center already for two weeks, and Cat feels very little eagerness to meet the final stage kids, Trent and Kylee. There’s no joy, that they’re all in the Everglades, that the crusty boat operator shows then an alligator, that the facility is top-notch and state-of-the-art, has a gorgeous, Olympic sized pool, and looks much more like a resort than a hospital. Even the ultra-friendly Dr. Ames, the cafeteria with the great food and never any line, because, hey: six patients isn’t entirely —

Wait. …Six patients? With such a huge, shiny facility? What’s up with that?

Something’s not… right. Cat doesn’t feel at all comfortable, or well. We, the readers, feel wrong and unwell right along with her – it’s like we have her dis-ease and her headaches too. It’s small and subtle, but there’s this note of wrongness that sounds from the first moments of the novel, and jangles with louder and louder discordance the longer the novel goes on.

It starts with someone missing. A boy, Trent, whom Sara knew and liked – a lot. He’s… odd, when they see him again. Formal. Busy. Distracted. He wasn’t like that before, Sara argues. Before, he was fun, goofy. Into her.

Each of the small fractures in the plot is easily dismissed, from the beginning. Hyperactive teen girls are delusional sometimes, right? I mean, so the guy isn’t into Sara anymore. She’s kind of annoying – she never stops talking. It might be her fault. Is it easier to just accept that, or tell the lie that they’ve done something to him? It’s ridiculous, right?

Isn’t it?
Everybody there has a brain injury. How reliable are their memories? How much can Cat believe of a conversation she eavesdrops on, or a phone call she overhears? How much do the suspicions of others matter? She needs to talk to her mother, but… well, she’s got to make the phone call from the office, right in front of the doctor, since there’s no cell service. And, anyway, who’s going to believe that there’s anything wrong about doctors?

WARNING: Exacerbates sleeplessness, especially if read in bed with flashlights. May be snatched from middle-grade hands by older siblings, or, worse, their marauding parental units, desperately in search of a good book. Under no circumstances should you operate heavy machinery whilst reading. Your mileage may vary, void where prohibited. Author Kate Messner has written a novel of addictive readability and tautly balanced anxiety, with a gender neutral cover that’s E for Everyone. Be aware that books cause thought, and books consumed with caffeinated beverages cause faster thought. Do not imagine that this is purely fiction, and could never happen. Available now on a bookshelf near you.

I received my ARC copy courtesy of the author and NetGalley. You can find WAKE UP MISSING by Kate Messner at an independent bookstore near you!

About the author

tanita s. davis is a writer and avid reader who prefers books to most things in the world, including people. That's ...pretty much it, she's very boring and she can't even tell jokes. She is, however, the author of nine books, including Serena Says, Partly Cloudy, Go Figure, Henri Weldon, and the Coretta Scott King honored Mare's War. Look for her new MG, The Science of Friendship in 1/2024 from Katherine Tegen Books.


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