Informal Readalong: Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan (Audio) @bkclubcare @Leeswammes

cover image of audiobook Songs for the MissingWhat, no badge? No announcement post? No check-ins? What kind of readalong is this?

The easy kind, hosted and organized by Care’s Online Book Club. This readalong was so informal that even I could join in and finish the book on time. (Because there was no actual deadline.) I listened to the audiobook of Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan, published by Penguin Audio, narrated by Emily Janice Card.

I don’t think there are any real spoilers here, but my answers to the discussion questions may not make any sense if you haven’t read the book yourself. Thanks to Care and Judith for the questions and for the readalong! Visit Care’s Online Book Club and Leeswaames Blog to read their answers to these questions and others.

1. Was this a first read of this author?  If yes, will you read more and why?  If not, how would you describe his style – is it recognizable? does he work with similar themes or …
I listened to the audio edition of Emily, Alone by Stewart O’Nan (published in 2011) a couple of years ago, without realizing it was a follow-up to Wish You Were Here from 2002, so I just caught up on Wish You Were Here in print and listened to Songs for the Missing (2008) on audio. Interestingly, the case of a teen girl who goes missing from a convenience store plays a secondary role to the family drama that plays out in Wish You Were Here and then, the disappearance of a teen girl turns up as the main theme in Songs for the Missing, and he has the space of a whole novel to delve into how a family might respond. I will definitely be reading more by this author!

2. I tried to convince a friend – who has two daughters of college age – to read this and she said, “NO WAY”.  Is there anything I could have said that would have made her consider this book?
Crimes against children or young teens can be very hard to read about, even when they are fictional and even if you’re not a parent yourself. I know a woman who will read every creepy serial-killer novel or murder mystery I could find for her, but not if there were any children involved. About Songs for the Missing, though, I might say that the author doesn’t make it into a maudlin story or a tearjerker; he doesn’t set out to make you cry over the disappearance of Kim but to place you, as a reader, into the lives of Kim’s family and friends who are left to deal with the aftermath and the uncertainty.

3.  What did you think of Kim? Likeable, untrustworthy, etc.
We only get Kim’s point of view right at the opening of the book, before she goes missing a few weeks before she is due to leave her small Ohio town for college. She is just starting to realize that – although desperate to escape Kingsville for a larger life where she can maybe become a different type of person – there are certain things she will miss when she’s gone, among them, the lake and her younger sister Lindsay. She treats Lindsay to lunch at the Burger King drive-through and tells her she will miss her when she goes off to college. This is so out of character for Kim that Lindsay is suspicious at the time, and after Kim disappears, the statement becomes even more mysterious, but readers know that Kim meant it sincerely. Unathletic, glasses-wearing Lindsay thinks of Kim as the golden girl in the family, “the good daughter.” Kim’s disappearance at the height of her talent, beauty, and first-place status only serves to cement this in Lindsay’s mind.

4. How would you describe Kim and her boyfriend’s relationship? Did you find it realistic?
I found it to be realistic for a high school relationship, with neither one’s being willing to risk revealing too much to the other. It gave an added layer to the story, both in seeing how Kim’s disappearance affected J.P. and the rest of Kim’s circle of friends and in showing the difference between how Kim’s parents viewed Kim’s relationship with J.P. and the reality of it.

5. Ultimately, O’Nan doesn’t really focus on what happens to Kim; what do you think happened? Were you frustrated with the beginning of the search, the police response, etc?
Songs for the Missing is definitely not crime fiction in any sense. Like Kim’s parents, I was definitely frustrated by the police response in the beginning, but that was because, as a reader, we knew more than the police. I thought the police did as much as they could, given that Kim was technically an adult at age 18 and had been known to stay out all night on occasion. I thought the author gives enough details for readers to surmise what happened by the end but he never leaves the perspective of the family and friends to become the omniscient narrator. I’m glad readers didn’t get any details!

6. Did you highlight any quotes?  Anything else to share?

This quote is right near the beginning of the book, and is about Kim, as her summer after high school comes to an end. It seemed to me to sum up the tragedy of her disappearance, because everything had been leading up to it, everyone had been preparing for it, but not in the way that it happened.

“Slowly, night by night, the dream of leaving was coming true. With her family’s blessing, their very highest hopes. She could not regret it. She could only be grateful.”

The narrator for the audiobook, Emily Janice Card, was new to me and is excellent! You can listen to the beginning of the audiobook here.


6 thoughts on “Informal Readalong: Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan (Audio) @bkclubcare @Leeswammes”

  1. YAY! Such thoughtful answers. And it sounds like you got a trilogy of O’Nan in the bargain. Interesting that he used similar theme or subject.
    I do think what I admired most is that O’Nan does not set out to manipulate the reader at all; no tearjerker, just thoughtful wonderment.

    1. Yes, I did cry at a few spots in the story, but I didn’t feel manipulated. When I hear about an event like this in real life, I always wonder how the family will survive it, and that really is what the author explores in this book.

  2. Great answers! So, do you think this book is typical of Stewart O’Nan? Are his other books similar in style? I love the idea that the subject of this book appeared in a different book, too. Was it just a similar story or actually *this* story that was mentioned in Wish You Were Here?

    I think (like you, I think) that this story was quite subtle with the disappearance of Kim. As a parent of two teenagers (boys) I never felt worried about my own children while reading this story. It wasn’t that kind of story.

    I also think the police did enough – it was very good that the neighborhood all helped looking for Kim.

    1. I would say it is typical in style from the few I’ve read! His two others I’ve read were novels about families leading ordinary lives with more ordinary crises to deal with, but gave me the same overall feeling that life moves on, ready or not. The missing girls in the two books were different cases (in Wish You Were Here, the setting was New York) but similar in how they happened.

Would love to have you comment!