There are moments when your memory fails you. Waking up suddenly in the night can cause temporary confusion. Going from one room to another, your mind loaded with tasks, only to discover the real reason you went to the room has left your mind. Sometimes you will be writing along and the spelling for the simplest word has vanished from your thoughts entirely.
When joining my 93-year-old Mom for dinners in her assisted living home, I sit with her table companions listening and watching some of them struggle to put a sentence together. You can see in their eyes as they search for the correct words to express their thoughts. Imagine how this would be if you were only in middle school? Kate Messner's newest title, Wake Up Missing (Walker Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Inc.), places six young people with head injuries, all hoping to get their normal lives back, together in circumstances where their very existence is threatened.
If you hit your head hard enough, your brain gets shaken up inside your skull.
Twelve-year-old Cat Grayson and her mom have recently arrived in the Florida Everglades to drop her off at the highly acclaimed International Center for Advanced Neurology, I-CAN. They are taken to the former military facility by air boat along with another new patient Ben and his aunt. Two other guests, Quentin and Sarah who have been there for two weeks already, and Dr. Mark Ames, head of I-CAN, greet them upon their arrival. When Cat's mom and Ben's aunt leave, Cat is overwhelmed with conflicting emotions, should she be here or not.
Trent and Kaylee are in the final stages of treatment, their absence while noted by the other four, is dismissed as their first morning conversations focus on getting to know one another. The initial inkling that something might be amiss is noticed by Cat that same day when she overhears an argument between Dr. Ames and a neurologist who specializes in genetic engineering, Dr. Gunther. Later when Trent appears in the cafeteria, Sarah, who has spent the most time with him, insists he has changed; his personality, speech and mannerisms are altered.
Overhearing a cell phone conversation on the roof, Cat is certain she and the others are being told a distorted version of the facility's true purpose. Sneaking into Dr. Gunther's office, she and Sarah discover even more alarming evidence. Convincing the two boys, Quentin and Ben, is not so easy though....until they discover something and someone who are not supposed to be there.
Dead scientists' names adding up to a terrifying realization, clandestine trips into the Everglades, experiments gone wrong, kidnapping, a horrible statement overheard, drug runners and One-Eyed Lou spell serious trouble for the six. They have become pawns in a truly frightening high stakes game reaching to the upper echelon. In what can only be described as a tension-filled, page-turning series of events the group needs to work through their differences, find the best possible solution in multiple worse-case scenarios and search within themselves to find answers quickly.
Within the first two chapters readers will feel a sense of apprehension building. Supported by meticulous research, in the capable hands of author Kate Messner, a sure knowledge grows that despite this being a work of fiction, it could happen. It's this recognition combined with superb writing techniques which hooks readers, not letting them go until the final sentence is read.
We are there with Cat, Ben, Quentin, Sarah, Trent and Kaylee through conversation, thoughts, detailed descriptions of place and single potent sentences. Supporting characters, Molly the air boat driver, Dr. Gunther, the neurologist with a less than stellar past, Gus and Eugene, the duo living on the wrong side of the law, good and bad all ring true. Dr. Mark Ames, plotting and planning, with his eyes on the prize will stop at nothing to succeed. Here are a few examples of her writing from this title.
I smiled back at her and reminded myself this was where I needed to be to get better. I liked the birds. The kids were friendly, and Dr. Ames seemed nice, too. Like he cared about us, like he wanted to make sure we felt safe and happy. Like we were important to him.
I guess we were, in a way. Just not the way we thought.
All the anxiety that had lifted from me watching the birds came back, twisting my stomach, pounding on my head from the inside. Now I had to stay hidden; somehow, I knew I was hearing something I shouldn't.
"Come on." Quentin offered Ben his hand. Ben ignored it and almost fell in the water, but he caught a branch and started up the trail. It didn't go far before the brush filled in, and we were climbing over snapping branches and mangrove roots thick as my arm.
"Did you hear that?" Sarah grabbed my arm. We stopped and listened.
It was quiet.
I looked at Quinten. His eyes narrowed, and I could tell he was thinking what I was thinking.
It was too quiet for the Everglades.
Kate Messner's Wake Up Missing is a science thriller jam-packed with heart-stopping action. Precisely when you think you have all the dots connected, she throws in another tantalizing shift, a new element that changes everything. You, like the characters, need to re-evaluate; they to survive, you to speculate on what the next turn of page will bring. Plan on multiple copies; this is one book that will never be on the shelves.
In a detailed Author's Note, Messner outlines the spark for writing this book and the research involved. Here is a link to the Pinterest board she has developed for this title. My review is based upon an ARC I received from Kate Messner as part of one of her KidLit auctions.