Descent by Tim Johnston

A teenage girl is abducted from the trail where she is running and her brother is bicycling with her. Her brother, Sean, is found injured from a wrecking the bike, but does not remember much about the abduction. For several months, the family – Grant, Angela, and Sean – search for Caitlin. When she is not found, the family flies apart. The father, Greg, stays in Colorado, while Angela, the mother, and Sean return to Minnesota so that Sean can go back to school. Each of them reacts in their own way. Angela lives with her sister, and is chronically depressed. Sean returns to Colorado for awhile, then takes off in his father’s truck and just drives.

Greg becomes involved with the elderly rancher who lets him live on the ranch, and his sons, the Sheriff who directed the search for Caitlin, the younger son, Billy. Greg’s anguish is an undertone to his daily activities, but these people become his substitute family.

We also hear from Caitlin herself who is being kept in a remote shack by a strange man. It is clear he has done this before. He has his hideout all set up with heat, supplies; he takes care that no one can easily follow him from town to this place. Caitlin’s alter ego reminds her to be strong. She never ceases looking for a way to escape.

The characters are compelling as they react to the abduction and subsequent events. I read long into the night wanting to get through each next section. Critics of the book have said that the story is neither a traditional thriller nor a literary examination of family dynamics. I agree that it is not the thriller that it could be, but it is an exceptional examination of how each family member copes.

And the surprise twist at the end is somehow satisfying, although perhaps a little too pat for some people.

Tim Johnston is also the author of Irish Girl, an O. Henry Prize winner, and a YA novel, Never so Green.

Descent on Goodreads

Review from NPR

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