‘Still Missing’ by Beth Gutcheon – Book Review

Blurb from Goodreads

Alex Selky, going on seven, kissed his mother goodbye and set off for school, a mere two blocks away.

He never made it.

Desperate to find him, his mother begins a vigil that lasts for days, then weeks, then months.

She is treated first as a tragic figure, then as a grief-crazed hysteric, then as a reminder of the bad fortune that can befall us all. Against all hope, despite false leads and the desertions of her friends and allies she believes with all her heart that somehow, somewhere, Alex will be found alive.

Beth Gutcheon builds a heartrending suspense that culminates in a climax you will never forget.

My Review

This book has filled me with all sorts of mixed emotions.

Initially I found it to be quite problematic because two of the characters early on in the book made homophobic comments using slurs and implied a link between homosexuality and paedophilia and I was appalled and then incredibly conflicted. Because I think it’s somewhat important to take the context of when the book was written into account and initially this was published in 1981 and homophobia was sadly the prevailing viewpoint.

And then I got even angrier because a gay character was portrayed in a very negatively sexualised manner and was then heavily implied to be involved in wrongdoing.

BUT THEN THE BOOK WENT AND SHOOK ME RIGHT UP!

Because it turned all that homophobia on its head and talked about the need for gay rights, positive gay stories in the media etc. It had actually used the problematic slurs to create a believable atmosphere of hatred and then it became key to moving the plot forward.

And I was back thinking ooh crafty trick there, you hook the homophobic reader and then BOOM slap them with an equality wake up call….

So I’m all mixed up. I definitely don’t like the use of homophobic slurs, I definitely don’t like the portrayal of the one gay character in the book… But I very much appreciated the ultimate aims of the author…

I guess if there hadn’t been repeated use of a disableist slur I might have fully come around to the aims of the author….

But again. Context. Published in 1981… Things were different then.

See this is hard isn’t it. Am I reading this with a sort of informed hindsight because it’s 2019??? And therefore I should excuse words and phrases common to the time period??? Or am I just like no. You should never have said that because that word always was meant in a derogatory fashion????? But then it’s characters saying these words and not the author and well written characters are like real people in that they are flawed, they say awful things….

SO I AM CONFLICTED!!!

Good points about the book….and they definitely outweigh the negative. It was fantastically well written. Thoroughly engaging plot. Characters that felt quite visceral, very warts and all type characters really… And the emotional impact of Susan’s reactions and feelings regarding everything surrounding her missing child was keenly felt. The book perfectly portrayed her trauma and the craziness of everything going on around her complete with supportive friends, crappy friends, guilt tripping family, friends and strangers… Was utterly engaging and devastatingly harrowing.

So three stars???? A happy medium as such????

I’m still confused and probably will be forevermore

Content Warning

  • Homophobic slurs
  • Disableist slurs
  • Paedophilia
  • Rape

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10 thoughts on “‘Still Missing’ by Beth Gutcheon – Book Review

  1. It sounds like there certainly were some great things about this book but a shame that it included slurs that are not appropriate.. I guess things were very different back then and it’s interesting to read how gay rights were portrayed even though understandably it would make us angry reading it now. Great review, Emer!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It really was a fascinating read Darina and perhaps with content warnings or thought provoking book group questions at the end that would discuss the presence of the slurs would have made me give this a higher rating. But it was a very well written piece and I guess it’s always good to look back and see how far we have come :))))

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  2. Here is my thinking and I have thought about this a lot because of news stories etc. I think to hold books to the 2019 standard is not always the right thing. I understand that slurs shouldn’t be used but isn’t that how we grow to read books like this and think about what we are reading? I think now a days holding things to today’s standard is partially erasing what existed before it. You can’t change the past but you can learn from it. Just like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books were stripped of an award because she said Indian instead of Native American. Back then that is what they said. It doesn’t mean she didn’t change over time. But this is just my thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your thoughts Joanna! It’s something that is very tricky for us as book reviewers when we do read older books isn’t it. Because reading with a modern lens is so easy but you always have to think of context. I like to go with my gut feeling when I’m reviewing a book but this particular one just still has me confused. It’s such a brilliantly crafted book and I thoroughly enjoyed the read… But I can’t help but feel uneasy. I don’t know if I’ll ever truly be able to give a definitive review and rating of this book unless I were to reread it which I have no intention of doing.
      I’ve never actually read Laura Ingalls Wilder can you believe!?! But I assume the controversy is quite similar to Enid Blyton on this side of the pond as she wrote some very problematic ideas and character misrepresentations in her children’s books. But as a child I utterly loved her books. And I would hate for future generations to miss out on that same joy I experienced. We definitely have to allow for prevailing beliefs at the time a book was written but still need to somehow resolve them with current opinion be that with considered editing or content warnings.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think it all boils down to a teaching moment. Instead of just doing away with ideas it can become a moment for someone to ask questions and learn from what has happened. History is so important to me and I just don’t like the idea of people trying to somehow erase the bad. Without the bad there is no progress. It’s probably the history nerd in me, lol. I definitely agree with you that subject matter can become uncomfortable to read.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That is a fantastic way of thinking of it!!!! You’re so right that historical beliefs shouldn’t be censored but instead should be learned from. I’d love the idea of thought provoking book group style questions at the back of these older books with problematic themes because that would truly get us thinking and learning and then the reading experience could be quite an enriching one. Loved your thoughts on this Joanna. You’ve definitely helped me feel a lot more certain about my enjoyment of this book for what it was in its time period :))))) <333

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Great Review! I can imagine that would be a shocking read due to the era it was written in, I’m glad the world has moved and evolved so much… still not perfect but better!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Rae! This really was a great book at times, so well written but it’s just so difficult to know how to rate it when we are now living in such a different era. I think maybe content warnings on the book might have persuaded me to give it a higher rating but I am still unsure 🙈😳

      Liked by 1 person

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