THE EXISTENCE OF BEA PEARL by Candice Marley Conner
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I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher to write this review.
Bea’s brother has ceased to exist.
At least it seems that way when the whole town turns out to his funeral, even though there’s no body, even though he’s only been missing for six months, even though Bea saw someone rescue him from the flood waters. But her parents and the sheriff have written her off as crazy and insisted on declaring him dead so that Bea could move on with her life.
Of course no one asked Bea what she wanted, and she has no intention of moving on. When she finds the out-of-towner who pulled her brother from the flood, she begins her own investigation into Jim’s disappearance. But her small Alabama town has more secrets than she imagined, and every clue she finds seems to complicate the case. As her detective work begins to attract attention, Bea starts to wonder whether Jim got himself mixed up in something seriously dangerous–or if maybe she’s as crazy as everyone believes.
This new title checks all the boxes you look for in a teen thriller: a kidnapping, parental drama, a supportive but skeptical BFF, a love triangle, ill-defined danger, and a protagonist you’re not sure you can trust. While it’s not in the same league as a Megan Miranda or a Karen McManus, the lower intensity and lack of violence allows this thriller to skew younger, and it might have an easier time getting past gatekeepers. (FYI, there are references to drugs, but the teens don’t use the drugs, and it felt a bit like “drugs” was the token crime the way that every Hardy Boys book seems to involve smugglers…) I’d put THE EXISTENCE OF BEA PEARL in the hands of a thriller-hungry reader in grade 8 or above.