In her debut novel, A PSALM FOR LOST GIRLS, Katie Bayerl presents a profound coming of age story wrapped within a thriller. Themes of loss, love, sisterhood and faith are saturated throughout the pages. The added layers of suspense and mystery give this novel an addicting flair, making it impossible to put down.
Callie De Costa is mourning the sudden death of her sister. Which is hard enough. But Tess was no ordinary girl. She was a saint. At least, that’s what the believers in New Avon will tell you. When Ana Langone, a young girl missing for six months, surfaces alive and unhurt at a shrine to Tess, the movement to have her officially recognized as a saint sees a renewed fervor.
While everyone, including their mother, is thrilled with the attention, it only feels like an assault to Callie. They stole her sister from her once. Forcing her to bear the burden of sainthood and miracles on her seventeen year old shoulders. A weight that proved too heavy for those shoulders. Now they’re trying to steal the memory of her as well. Losing her once was impossible. Losing her twice is unthinkable. Callie throws herself into solving the mystery of what happened to Ana in a desperate attempt to prove that her survival isn’t the miracle the town wants it to be. But in trying to show her sister is more than just a saint, she forgets that a kidnapper is still on the loose.
As far as thrillers go, A PSALM FOR LOST GIRLS is superb. Bayerl does an excellent job maintaining the tension and constantly reminding the reader that there is still danger lurking. With three different perspectives —- Callie, Ana and the diary entries of Tess, we get a richer experience full of information that doesn’t feel bulky. While reading, it’s easy to forget that there is more happening than Callie’s grief and her quest to stop her sister’s impending sainthood. This is a form of story-telling that serves as a reminder for life. How often do we get too focused on one area in our lives that we miss out on the bigger picture? That we fail to see the forest for the trees?
This layering makes the novel a solid coming of age story. Wrapped within each narration is the exploration of loss and grief. Of the stages we need to get through to emerge into the most important one of all: acceptance. Our relationships with our siblings and our mothers, are often complicated and complex. Bayerl takes us deep into those emotions and experiences, letting us sort through these feelings with Callie. There is the bittersweet reminder of how hard it is to grow up, even without kidnappers and saints thrown into the mix.
For readers hesitant to dive into a books of saints and miracles, they shouldn’t worry. While there is discussion of how someone becomes a saint, it fits with the narration so well that it reads like a conversation. It’s interesting and informative without feeling overbearing. I actually enjoyed this aspect more than I thought I would, especially near the end, as both Tess and Callie learn to see faith as more than fanaticism. Not everyone who loses a loved one will face the trials of sainthood; however, the examination of faith while experiencing the stages of grief will resonate with anyone who has faced either or both.
We aren’t given clear cut answers in the end, which may frustrate some readers. However, it felt appropriate given the exploration of faith. Sometimes we have to rely on our own definition of what it means to believe something. In giving us a more open ending, Bayerl allows each reader to draw their own conclusions.
A PSALM FOR LOST GIRLS is fitting for a wide range of readers. It’s an excellent thriller and should satisfy anyone looking for a suspenseful mystery novel. It’s also perfect for readers looking for an emotionally complex come of age story, especially one dealing with grief. It is thoughtful, engaging and will take you on a satisfying emotional journey.
Thank you Teenreads for sending me the book to review for your site!!!