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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

Before She Was Found

Before She Was Found

ISBN: 0778307735

Publisher: Park Row

Publication Date: 04/16/2019

Format: Hardcover

My Rating: 5 Stars +

A gripping thriller about three young girlfriends, a dark obsession and a chilling crime that shakes up a quiet Iowa town, from the New York Times bestselling author of The Weight of Silence. For twelve-year-old Cora Landry and her friends Violet and Jordyn, it was supposed to be an ordinary sleepover—movies and Ouija and talking about boys. But when they decide to sneak out to go to the abandoned rail yard on the outskirts of town, little do they know that their innocent games will have dangerous consequences. Later that night, Cora Landry is discovered on the tracks, bloody and clinging to life, her friends nowhere to be found. Soon their small rural town is thrust into a maelstrom. Who would want to hurt a young girl like Cora—and why? In an investigation that leaves no stone unturned, everyone is a suspect and no one can be trusted—not even those closest to Cora.

Before She Was Found is a timely and gripping thriller about friendship and betrayal, about the power of social pressure and the price of needing to fit in. It is about the great lengths a parent will go to protect their child and keep them safe—even if that means burying the truth, no matter the cost.

My Review

UNPREDICTABLE! Psychologically Rich, Timely, Character-driven, Twisty, and Loaded with Riveting Suspense. Feed your true-crime obsession.

An avid fan (have read all her books), Heather Gudenkauf returns following Not a Sound, my Top Books of 2017 with a brilliantly crafted thriller BEFORE SHE WAS FOUND. I will have to agree with PW review: "She is at the top of her game!"

Based on the Slender Man, (online meme), a fictional tall, spidery figure with a blank face and the subject of short stories, videos, artwork, and video games. Stories of the Slender Man commonly feature him stalking, abducting or traumatizing people, particularly children.

In a true account in 2014, two 12-year-old girls in Wisconsin held down and stabbed a classmate 19 times. When questioned later by authorities, they reportedly claimed that they wished to commit a murder as a first step to becoming proxies for the Slender Man, having read about it online. They also stated that they were afraid that Slender Man would kill their families if they did not commit the murder.

However, in Heather’s skillful hands, in BEFORE SHE WAS FOUND, she reimagines a totally different creative story with her own signature style.

She cleverly balances a sophisticated unputdownable psychological thriller of obsession, frenemies, betrayal, the dangers of social media, age-old legends, dark secrets of a rural railroad town and a strong multi-generational character study —the lengths family members go to protect their loved ones.

Expect the unexpected. No way to guess how this one will turn out.

Set in the rural railroad town of (fictional) Pitch, Iowa—we meet three different twelve- year- old girls. In Cora, Violet, and Jordyn. They become friends (or frenemies).

They come from three different families (multi-generational). Jordyn (raised by grandparents), Cora (two-parent home), and Violet (raised by a struggling single mom). These family dynamics are fierce and each parent or guardian has their own parenting style.

The girls decide to do a school report on an urban legend, Joseph Wither. However, the lines become blurred between "fact and fiction" and one of the girls begins communicating with someone online in a chat room. He claims to be Joseph Wither.

Who is this person and is he the real Joseph Wither?

Events quickly spiral out of control. A tragic event at the railroad tracks turns everyone’s lives upside down and those related to these three girls. Who stabbed Cora? What happened to Cora and the events leading up to BEFORE SHE WAS FOUND? (perfect title).

From the intense pressures of social media, betrayal, and the mastermind behind the online mask, luring these girls to the tracks. From extensive text messages between the girls, the parents, a psychiatrist, police, a teacher, grandfather, to Cora journals—the suspense is riveting keeping you glued to the pages!

The setting is chilling. Abandoned railroads, tracks, and trains are mysterious and dangerous as it is. They serve as vivid metaphors. Lives become derailed. Lives get off track, as noted in the novel. In the case of this small rural town, the setting is very atmospheric. Some of the residents are looking for a way out of their life.

BEFORE SHE WAS FOUND is a cautionary and timely tale. Multi-layered, morally complex, seething with fear, the unknown, danger, mystery, and suspense.

From the gritty atmosphere, the electrifying plot and twists and turns —the author skillfully balances the many different character voices, text messages, journal entries, therapist’s notes, and police interrogations. Impressive.

Fans of true-crime fiction will undoubtedly find lots to love here. Highly recommend! Top Books of 2019.

Stay tuned from my upcoming Q&A with the author to learn more about the inspiration behind this “much talked about” novel, plus exclusive facts about the author—Coming April 16.

A special thank you to Park Row and NetGalley for an advanced reading copy.

Before She Was Found

Three young girls. One train yard. Every parent's nightmare.


“[A] scintillating psychological thriller... The stunning plot builds to a chillingly realistic ending. Gudenkauf is at the top of her game.”

—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Heather Gudenkauf has done it again. She manages to merge engaging characters and terrifying topics resulting in unputdownable suspense set in a small Iowa town. In Before She Was Found, Gudenkauf takes us into the lives of three young girlfriends as a sleepover turns into tragedy. Examining today’s realities of social media and the added pressure our connected culture creates, Gudenkauf has crafted a gripping thriller.”

—Kaira Rouda, bestselling author of Best Day Ever

"Eerily page-turning and wonderfully twisty, Before She Was Found is the riveting story of one troubled group of young girls struggling to belong and the frighteningly blurred boundary between where urban legend ends and real danger begins."

—Kimberly McCreight, New York Times bestselling author of Reconstructing Amelia and Where

"They Found Her“Dark and stylish, Before She Was Found is an entertaining read that thrills to the last page.”

—Linda Castillo, New York Times bestselling author of A Gathering of Secrets

Q&A with Heather Gudenkauf

A Q&A With Heather Gudenkauf

About the Author

Heather Gudenkauf

Heather Gudenkauf is the Edgar Award nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Weight of Silence, These Things Hidden and Not A Sound.

Heather was born in Wagner, South Dakota, the youngest of six children. At one month of age, her family returned to the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota where her father was employed as a guidance counselor and her mother as a school nurse. At the age of three, her family moved to Iowa, where she grew up. Having been born with a profound unilateral hearing loss (there were many evenings when Heather and her father made a trip to the bus barn to look around the school bus for her hearing aids that she often conveniently would forget on the seat beside her), Heather tended to use books as a retreat, would climb into the toy box that her father’s students from Rosebud made for the family with a pillow, blanket, and flashlight, close the lid, and escape the world around her. Heather became a voracious reader and the seed of becoming a writer was planted.

Heather Gudenkauf graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in elementary education, has spent her career working with students of all ages and continues to work in education as a Title I Reading Coordinator.Heather lives in Iowa with her family and a very spoiled German Shorthaired Pointer named Lolo. In her free time Heather enjoys spending time with her family, reading and hiking. She is currently working on her next novel. Read More

Explore Iowa Through Heather's Novels






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