Missing Pieces by Norma Fox Mazer
originally published 1995
Harcourt, 1st edition, 2007
Genre: YA fiction, juvanalia
Jacket copy: Jessie Wells doesn’t know her father. He left one day, saying he’d be back in a few hours. But he never came back. Curious about her father, she decides to do some investigating. But she may not be prepared for what she discovers …
Book report: The jacket copy makes it all sound so much more scandalous and interesting than it really was. I mean, those ellipsis, they suggest something nefarious or ominous … and there really isn’t anything of the sort. Jessie’s dad just got bored of having a family, and he wasn’t much interested in his child. Not that it’s a bad book, or anything, but it’s not suspense. It’s about a teenage girl who wants to know where she came from, who doesn’t know anything about her father but that he was handsome and he left her and her mother and never came back. Though she’s always wondered about him, things finally come to a head when a school assignment sends her looking for her family history. But her mother was orphaned young, cared for by an elderly aunt, and Jessie’s father is AWOL–so she decides she must find out anything she can about him.
Along the way we see the difficulties she and her mother have caring for their aging Aunt Zis, who is more and more prone to forgetting where she is and what she’s doing. And Jessie tries to make her two best friends befriend each other, while one BFF’s family falls apart. And she navigates the tricky waters of coming to like her BFF’s crush–and finding out that he likes her, too. And she finds out that the handsome hero her mother married is only one layer of the father she never knew.What Jessie ends up learning is that sometimes there are no answers to our questions. We can ask them all we like, but we may never get any answers at all–and if we do get them, they often aren’t the ones we want. But you can’t not try, you can’t not ask.
While it’s no Taking of Terri Mueller, Missing Pieces is a sensitive (I really hate using that adjective with coming of age novels) novel that finds its heroine not only looking for answers, but eventually learning acceptance as a kind of resolution. It isn’t one of those sappy, “the happiness was at home all along” type stories, either. Jessie’s relationship with her mother, though co-dependent, is troubled, and her mother reacts very realistically to the perceived threat of Jessie’s search for her father. There’s no real resolution, except that Jessie finds an understanding of herself, and also of those around her, including her absentee father. Though she doesn’t confront him, she knows that if she needs to, she one day will. But she might not.
Read also: Babyface, Taking Terri Mueller and Silver by Norma Fox Mazer; Deenie, Just as Long as We’re Together, and It’s Not the End of the World by Judy Blume; The Pistachio Prescription by Paula Danziger
Cover: Ugh! God save us from shitty stock photo cover art. Harper, why be you so cheap?
I started telling her about James Wells. I was just going to mention him to illustrate what I meant, but the words spilled out. I meant to sketch out the situation, but I ended up saying everything.
We took bowls of spaghetti up to her room and sat on the bed and ate, but I don’t know what I ate. I don’t know if I ate anything. Something had grabbed me, got hold of me. It was as if now that I’d started, I had to say it all. It was like being on a high-speed train, there was no getting off. At one point, Diane leaned her head on her hand and sort of moaned, “Jessie, oh, Jessie.” It wasn’t pity, I knew it wasn’t that. It was a heart cry, as if she knew exactly what I’d felt for so long. The absence, the emptiness, the missing pieces. The space in my life where there should have been a father and wasn’t.