Dark, But Optimistic: Paula McLain’s ‘When the Stars Go Dark’ Addresses Reality of Child Abduction

By Leslie Zemeckis   |   April 1, 2021

It is every parent’s nightmare. Their child goes missing. It is 1993 and young girls are disappearing in Northern California. 

The New York Times bestselling author Paula McLain (The Paris Wife) makes an abrupt departure from her popular historical novels to delve into the world of suspense and crime mystery in When the Stars Go Dark.

When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain will be available on April 13

Anna Hart is a missing persons detective running away from a recent personal tragedy. Returning to Mendocino where she spent the only happy part of her childhood with caring foster parents just as Cameron, a local 14-year-old girl disappears. The event triggers traumatic memories from Anna’s childhood of another teen who vanished. Anna races against time to find Cameron, a former foster child who she feels deep affinity for. 

McLain masterfully weaves the past and present, real abduction cases (Polly Klaas), and fiction in this thriller that will leave readers haunted and heartbroken. It is her most personal work to date, lending her own experiences with abandonment, loss, and foster care to inform Anna and Cameron’s story. Yet, McLain’s novel leaves us optimistic, “how even when we think we’re alone and far past hope, we’re not.” And that we are more than our trauma, our wounds.

The stars in McLain’s title are, as she told me, representative of all the missing children Anna had tried to save, stars “we can’t always see … but they’re always there.” 

I was on the edge of my seat, rooting for Anna before another body is discovered, one of just thousands that disappear every year. According to the California Attorney General website, last year in Santa Barbara County alone there were a total of 773 missing children. I asked McLain who and why some children – girls mostly – garner the attention of the media. 

“Affluence and race have a lot to do with which missing children are taken up as mascots,” she said. 

That injustice drove her as an author and angered Anna. So how do we protect our children? By “not buffering them but arming them appropriately with information. Self-esteem is key” for healing, McLain said. So is therapy, “self-understanding and forgiveness,” she added.

Call your local bookstore, including Tecolote Book Shop and Chaucer’s Books, and reserve a copy; it’s slated for release on April 13.

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