This reading group guide for All the Missing Girls includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q & A with author Megan Miranda. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book. Introduction
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When Nicolette Farrell receives a phone call from her brother, Daniel, with the news that their father is declining, she immediately heads back to her hometown of Cooley Ridge. Although she has established a new life elsewhere and is engaged to a successful young attorney, her homecoming causes memories of her adolescence and the mysterious disappearance of her friend Corinne Prescott ten years earlier to come flooding back. As Nicolette runs into the people from her past—her ex-boyfriend Tyler, her old friend Bailey, and Corinne’s high school boyfriend Jackson—she ruminates on the fateful days that changed the course of each of their lives and realizes that she is inextricably tethered to the people and place she thought she had left behind. When the woman that Nic’s ex-boyfriend has been seeing suddenly goes missing during her stay, Nicolette can’t help but search for the connection between the two disappearances. In a mind-bending twist, the story of Nicolette’s return to Cooley Ridge is told in reverse, keeping readers on the edge of their seats until the very last page is turned. This tale of buried secrets and a “town full of liars” cleverly explores the distance that people will go to protect those they love and poses haunting questions about the powerful grip the past can have on us and how well we can really know other people—and ourselves. Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Consider the epigraphs printed ahead of each part of the story. Why do you think the author chose these epigraphs? What do they reveal about the major themes of the book, and how do they help to unify the various sections?
2. Who narrates the story? Is he or she a reliable narrator? Why or why not? How do the choices in narration support a dialogue about how we come to understand or believe the stories we are told and how we determine what is or is not the truth? For instance, how might our understanding of the story be different if the author had chosen to employ more than one narrator or a different narrator?
3. Why does Nicolette Farrell return to Cooley Ridge? What is her experience of homecoming like? What seems to be the same about the town and the people in it and what seems to be different? How has Nicolette changed or not changed since her time growing up in Cooley Ridge?
4. Consider the motifs of myth and superstition in the story. Who is the monster in the woods? What does the story seem to suggest about how myth and superstition shape our fears and sense of what is—and is not—menacing?
5. Who is responsible for the disappearance of Corinne Prescott? Explain. How are the victims of each disappearance treated? How do the people in town react to their disappearances? What roles do reputation, gossip, opinion seem to play in the investigations?
6. Why do you think the author chose to tell the story in reverse? How did the reverse telling of the story affect your interpretation of the situation and your assessment of the characters therein?
7. Evaluate the theme of truth in the story. What lies do the characters tell, and why do they tell them? Do you feel that any of the lies were justified? What role does perspective seem to play in the determination of what is true and what is not?
8. Everett says that people can change, but Nicolette seems to believe that people do not change in any substantial way. Does the book ultimately suggest who is right? Do you agree? Explain.
9. How would you characterize the relationship that Corinne had with the other characters? How did each of the characters seem to feel about Corinne? How do we know this? What does Nicolette reveal about Corinne that gives us insight we might not otherwise have? How does this point of view—and the point of view of the other characters—shape or influence your assessment of Corinne’s fate?
10. Evaluate the themes of morality and the dual nature of humans. Can readers distinguish who is a “good” or “bad” character as the story unravels or at the book’s conclusion, or is a more complex view of morality presented? Explain. What motivates the characters to make the moral choices they each make? Do you feel that they made the right choices? Discuss.
11. What does the book seem to suggest about how well we can know others? What does the story indicate about the way we come to “know” another person? What influences our assessments of others and what prevents us from knowing other people—and ourselves—better?
12. What does Nicolette say is most necessary and essential to our survival? Do you agree with her? Why or why not?
13. At the conclusion of the story, what does Nicolette say defines home
? Is her concept of what makes a home surprising? Do you agree with her definition? Explain.
14. Evaluate the theme of memory in the book. Are the memories of the characters reliable? Why or why not? What does this suggest about the way that time influences our perspective and how the past affects our future?
15. Since the majority of the action takes place in Nicolette’s memory, how does the author create suspense and tension? What are some of the most surprising elements of plot and character and why are they surprising? Were you surprised by the conclusion of the book? Why or why not? How did your opinion of each of the characters change by the story’s end? Enhance Your Book Club
1. Read and evaluate All the Missing Girls
alongside Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl
. What do these books have in common? How are the characters alike? Who narrates the stories in each, and what points of view are represented? Does one point of view stand out over the rest? What common experiences do the characters share? What overlapping themes appear in these works? What role does genre play in treating these themes?
2. Use All the Missing Girls
as a starting place to discuss victimization and the portrayal of victims. Nicolette gives us a sense that there was a feeling in Cooley Ridge that Corinne may have “deserved” and “brought on” what happened to her. Discuss how reputation and gossip affect an investigation and shape how we perceive crimes and their victims.
3. Consider an event from the past that you feel shaped or heavily influenced the course of your life. How has your perspective of this event changed with the passage of time? What do you understand about the event now that you did not then?
4. Write a story about your adolescence. Then write the same story in reverse beginning with the conclusion and working back to the beginning. How does it change your perspective? A Conversation with Megan Miranda Can you tell us about your inspiration for All the Missing Girls? What were the novel’s origins? Where and how did you begin, and why were you interested in telling this story?
When I first began writing All the Missing Girls
, I called the draft Disappear
, because thematically, that’s what I was really interested in exploring. The ways in which people can disappear—not just literally, but the other versions of themselves as they grow and change over time. I wanted to explore how things that happen in adolescence can change and define people. How we are equally shaped not just by how we see ourselves, but by how others see us. And I’m fascinated by memory—the pieces we hold on to, and why we hold on to them, and how those pieces can shift and change over time.
The heart of the story idea actually began with the backstory, where I first got a sense of who the characters were, and the mystery that haunts them. But when I sat down to write, the scene that first came to me was ten years later, with Nic returning home. So I knew I would be playing with two stories, that the theme and the story would both become integral to the structure, and that they all would need to develop alongside each other. Why did you choose to write the story in reverse rather than in a linear fashion?
I knew I wanted to tell a story about a disappearance where the “reveal” of the mystery would not only be the narrator discovering what happened, but the reader experiencing it for themselves. And I wanted that structure to be there for a reason. So I thought a lot about why a narrator would choose to tell a story in reverse, which is how the idea finally came together for me: that Nic, who is recounting the story, is (as she says at one point) working her way up to something, back
to something, giving pieces of both the past and the present as she does. And, for me, the structure was also linked to the fact that she’s going into a much deeper past to pull all the answers together, unearthing memories from ten years earlier that she’d rather leave alone. When you began writing the story, had you already decided what the ending would be or did the story lead you to its own conclusion?
Partly. I had worked through a bit of the backstory first, so I knew where I was generally heading in the past storyline, about what happened ten years earlier. But the present story, with Annaleise’s disappearance, led to its own conclusion as I wrote, which then changed a bit of the past as well. The story evolved a lot as I wrote—I had a few pivotal scenes in mind, but other than that, I let the story and the characters lead the way. How did you decide upon the narrator of the story?
For me, this was always Nic’s story—she came to me first, and the story filled in around her. I started to hear her voice clearly on the drive she describes in the opening section, on her way back home. While Nic grew up in North Carolina and moved north, I did a bit of the reverse: I grew up in New Jersey, and now live in North Carolina. And it’s a drive that I, like Nic, now know by heart. The route itself feels like a character shift as the scenery changes around you, how you can feel the person you are become the person you were as you go—with all the people who know you that way, waiting for you there. What kinds of sources did you consult in order to prepare for writing a book of this kind?
One thing I’ve done for the past several years is attend a hands-on workshop for writers run by former and current members of various law enforcement branches, where we can ask specific questions, learn about protocol, but more important, listen to their stories. I also spoke with an attorney who specializes in elder law to get a grasp on the logistics of Nic’s father’s role in the story. But I connected most strongly to place. I spent some time surrounded by the mountains, letting the setting take over while I wrote. Everett and Nicolette seem to disagree over whether a person can really change in any substantial way. Where do you stand on this?
At first glance, I’d have to agree with Everett: Yes, I think people can and do change. But what I see in Nicolette’s thoughts is her belief that, change as you might, the other versions are still there.
It goes to her feelings of being unable to escape the past. How place and people can tie you to time. And how Nicolette herself can almost slip back to the person she was when surrounded by all the people and memories of the past as well. How has All the Missing Girls influenced your current writing projects or changed the way you write? Do you think that you will revisit any of the characters or themes from this novel?
It has made me more willing to take risks. Writing this book involved a lot of trial and error, but when I finally reached the end of the first draft, it was probably my highest writing moment to date.
As for revisiting these characters, my first instinct when finishing a book is that I’ve left the characters as I hoped to leave them. Anything I write about them afterward is going to alter the whole balance of who they are for me. But inevitably, down the line, I’ll start thinking about them and wondering how things have turned out. So I won’t say never, but I don’t have any plans for them right now.
Themes, on the other hand, yes. I see themes as questions to explore—not necessarily with an answer in mind. And I think there are many, many ways to explore the same themes that seem to particularly resonate for me. As a reader, who are some of the storytellers you find inspiring and why?
I am a big fan of Gillian Flynn, Tana French, and Megan Abbott—they write sharp-edged character-driven stories, with haunting prose, brimming with tension. I love the mysteries they construct, but even more than that, I’m always so fascinated by their characters. What do you think the suspense or thriller genres offer that other genres do not?
I think there’s something particularly revealing about suspense or thriller stories due to the immediacy of the action, and the urgency. Morality is put to the test in single moments that force characters to reveal themselves in split second decisions. That sense of danger, or ticking clock, elevates every emotion and puts even the seemingly mundane under a microscope for closer inspection. Every phrase or interaction can carry the meaning of something else, and I think these types of stories can bring the reader even closer, into a more active role. Are there any significant events from your own adolescence that you feel ultimately shaped the course of your life and your identity?
I think the moments that have most influenced my life happened later for me. Though I am struck by how much of our outer lives seem to hinge on decisions we’re supposed to make when we’re sixteen, seventeen, eighteen years old. I had been thinking a lot about this, how we make these decisions in adolescence that really do affect the trajectory of our adulthood. I was thinking that there are the decisions people expect you to make—if and where to go to college; where to live; what field to pursue—but that there could be all these hidden ones as well, that no one else bears witness to. Or, if they do, that it somehow bonds you all closer, tying you to each other, regardless of time and distance.