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The Things We Don't See | Review

This post contains minor spoilers of the above book. If you wanted to read it and feel like this would ruin the experience for you, then here is your warning to stop reading this and go and read it yourself!


Savannah Brown's second novel, The Things We Don't See, centres on a teenage girl trying to cope with dysfunction and grief in her family. In grappling with her sister Celeste's disappearance and her perpetually distant father, Mona Perry clings to the idea that she can solve the mystery of Roxy Raines, who disappeared decades ago with no investigation. With the intention of broadcasting her findings to her podcast audience, the story seeks to question the ethics of the true crime genre and the extent that trying to solve the murder-mystery is a selfish endeavour, with the protagonist prying into the private lives of the Sandown residents for the sake of entertaining a curious audience. Brown builds on the mystery genre by bringing a modern podcasting twist whilst retaining the tropes of scavenging through someone else's trauma as a way to cope with your own. Mona is a hard-boiled private detective with a microphone and an obsession with the truth.

The distinct perspective of Mona is created by Brown in such a way that the reader is able to invest as deeply in her obsession as she does, frequently wincing as her behaviour comes to harm those she has grown to care about. We become complicit in Mona's reckless and unlawful behaviour, her figurative grave digging and snooping into old wounds that the Sandown residents just want to leave untouched. The more she scratches at these wounds, the more infected they become, severing bonds of trust and potential romance in the process. Mona is what we call unlikable, a luxury not often afforded to teenage girls, but it's not without purpose. Her guilt and subsequent coping with said guilt makes her distance herself from becoming truly attached to those around her, in case they may suddenly disappear. She is empathetic, if not incredibly frustrating in how she seems to miss several opportunities to do the right thing.

By focusing in on this small beach town community, Brown is able to discuss the irony of everyone being in everyone's business whilst simultaneously not wanting to discuss this very obviously traumatic event. Once a few people know what Mona is up to, the whole island knows and she becomes the target of gossip and speculation. The quiet facade of this island is slowly pealed away, as the characters reveal the part they played in Roxy's difficult life and eventual disappearance, and like small towns often do in these novels, what was once a welcoming community becomes hostile. This very literally manifest in the hurricane at the end of the novel, a symbolic culmination of the pain that this community refused to acknowledge until it was very literally washing them away.

As we are drawn deeper into Mona's life, we are also drawn into Roxy's and we see the parallels that Mona is drawing between the missing woman and her own sister. Roxy and Celeste become literary doubles, in that they are largely mythologised by the protagonist and they mostly feature in memories. Because of this, the victim status of the two girls is constantly under scrutiny and their true nature remains as mysterious as how they came to suddenly no longer exist in their loved ones lives. For Mona, Roxy becomes a fixation specifically because she cannot cope with has happened to her sister, and hopes that if she solves this mystery, she may also find answers to her own impossible questions. What occurs as the novel goes on though is that there is no stable identity for either of these girls. As Mona's perspective begins to shift and she becomes more invested, she comes to realise the pitfalls in staking so much time in this investigation and the true terror that these two girls were more alike than she first realised comes home to roost.

Brown creates a story about uncovering truth, using the mystery genre to explore what is right in front of us but what we can't seem to articulate. Mona is forced out of her closed off world for the sake of enacting good and must decide who she is doing this for, and whether it's truly Roxy she is trying avenge.


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