REVIEW: THE NEXT TIME YOU SEE ME, BY HOLLY GODDARD JONES

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A group of teenage bullies; a teacher stressed out from doing more than her share of the parenting; an older man, Wyatt Powell, who is realizing that life is passing him by; and a wild thirty-something woman who goes missing…

These characters and more populate the canvas of The Next Time You See Me, set in a small town named Roma, Kentucky, near the Tennessee border, where those wanting to party cross over regularly to the bars in a section called Tobacco Patch. The time period: 1990s.

The author drew me in with her vivid descriptions of these characters, making me feel as though they were people I might know. People with flaws and vulnerabilities. The teenagers were typically annoying, but one of them, Emily Houchens, the target of much of the bullying, is hiding something. And over-privileged Christopher Shelton is confused, and also behaving badly.

The stressed-out teacher is Susanna Mitchell, mother of four-year-old Abby, and wife to Dale, whose work consumes him to the exclusion of everything else. His behavior and attitude toward Susanna put him on my “very annoying” list…perhaps he will redeem himself at some point.

Veronica (Ronnie) Eastman is Susanna’s wild sister who parties regularly, hooking up with less-than-appropriate men. When she goes missing one October weekend, Susanna and her mother both believe that somehow she connected with the wrong man. But Susanna’s husband Dale is dismissive, saying she probably took off on a vacation.

Susanna knows this is unlikely. She makes a report to the police, and is stunned to realize that the detective she will be working with is someone from her past: Tony Joyce. They didn’t get together when she was in high school, because her racist father would have objected.

Now Tony is feeling something for Susanna…and wondering where it will go, and Susanna is also feeling the attraction again.

What has happened to Ronnie? Why does Wyatt turn out to be a person of interest? What happens to Emily when she goes missing? And how does a buxom nurse named Sarah figure into the story?

As the story unfolded in unexpected ways, flashing backwards and forwards, a grim reality is revealed…and we are left with a sadness and a nostalgia for the fleeting moments in life that are sometimes all we can hang onto. Unforgettable. 4.5 stars.

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