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The One I Left Behind: A Novel by [McMahon, Jennifer]
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The One I Left Behind: A Novel Kindle Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 422 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

Author One-on-One: Jennifer McMahon and Megan Abbott

Jennifer McMahon

Megan Abbott is the Edgar award-winning author of six novels, including Dare Me.

Megan Abbott: As with your other books, The One I Left Behind is a character‐driven story, but it’s also extremely scary, chronicling a teen girl’s harrowing experience when a serial killer targets her town and eventually, her mother. How do you create suspense in your books?

Jennifer McMahon: When I sit down to write, I typically don’t know what’s going to happen next. I start with an idea and ask questions. Then I start writing to find out the answers. I think the fact that I don’t know, that I’m just kind of letting the story tell itself and show me where it wants to go helps me keep it suspenseful. If I’m on the edge of my seat, then I’m thinking that maybe the readers will be, too. When I wrote the first draft of this book, I didn’t know who the killer was, and the idea that it could be any of the characters kept me on edge.

MA: Reggie, the main character in the book, returns to her hometown after her mother—missing twenty‐five years has been found alive. The book shifts between Reggie’s life as a teenager in the 1980s and the present. What made you choose this structure?

JM: I think at their heart, my books are studies of the choices people make often really bad choices-and the way those choices, along with the secrets we keep, can shape our lives, even change the people we turn out to be. I wanted to show how Reggie became the person she is today; how the events that took place one summer shaped her forever, and how now, she’s got to go back to that summer and face it, whether she wants to or not.

MA: You depict Reggie’s adolescent experience so vividly-all the insecurities, romantic confusion and longing, the feverish intensity of friendships among young girls. Are you particularly drawn to writing about this age group?

JM: For whatever reason, writing these types of characters these quirky, imaginative, misfit girls somewhere between 6 and 15comes naturally to me. I think my own childhood and early adolescence was a particularly bizarre, difficult and yet magical time, so that period is still very vivid in my head, and thankfully, flows easily onto the page.

MA: Even though The One I Left Behind is a mystery, at its heart are a pair of relationships: Reggie and her best friend Tara, and Reggie and her mother, Vera, a former model with a complicated personal life. How do you balance relationships and plot?

JM: I think the two are interconnected: the relationships shape the plot and the plot shapes the way the characters behave toward one another. For me, they develop together. I often learn about my characters and their relationships to the people in their lives by making terrible things happen nothing like loved ones in jeopardy to put all your relationships to the test!

MA: It strikes me that suspense is a very “intimate” genre. The relationship between the author and the reader is so intense because the author tries to generate such powerful responses in the reader. Do you feel that way?

JM: I think you’re absolutely right! We’re taking people to some pretty dark places and showing them some scary stuff. I love hearing from people who tell me they had to sleep with the lights on after finishing one of my books – I feel connected to that person in some way, like I shared a piece of one of my nightmares with them and now it’s theirs as well. That is a pretty intimate thing.

From Booklist

Reggie Dufrane was a gawky teenager when a serial killer dubbed Neptune began kidnapping women in her sleepy hometown of Brighton Falls, Connecticut. (The killer would leave one severed hand from each victim on the police department steps, then display their bodies around town.) Reggie and her misfit friends—gutsy goth Tara and crushworthy Charlie, the cute son of the local detective—are pulled into Neptune’s web when Reggie’s mother, Vera, becomes the latest victim. A former model, Vera wasn’t around much for her daughter, and Reggie wonders if her mother’s insatiable appetite for liquor and men made her a target. Like the others, Vera’s amputated hand is soon left by the killer. But her body is never found, and little hope remains of it being discovered. Some 25 years later, Reggie, now a successful architect in Vermont, receives word from a hospital that her mother is alive. She returns home, unearthing old demons and harrowing family truths. In this latest offering, McMahon’s alternating chapters—jumping between present and past—slow the momentum of an otherwise well-spun tale. --Allison Block

Product Details

  • File Size: 1044 KB
  • Print Length: 422 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (January 2, 2013)
  • Publication Date: January 2, 2013
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0089LONC8
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #33,051 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Summer Girl VINE VOICE on November 12, 2012
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Jennifer writes in such a way, that leaves the reader glued to the book, cancelling all daily activities, and curling up on the couch with a blanket and an ice tea. That is what I did yesterday, because I couldn't put this book down.

McMahon is a superb suspense novelist, in that she uses just the right amount of hints in the appropriate places to put suspicion and doubt in our minds. She has a knack for ending her chapters with cliffhangers, as she goes onto a different chapter of an entirely different time period. It's like watching a soap opera, biting your nails and waiting for the next episode to find out if your favorite character dies. In this book, as in many of her books, she alternates her chapters between Reggie's childhood, and present day. Both scenarios have cliffhangers that play out, as we hang on the edge wondering what happened in Reggie's childhood that changed her friends lives, and hers. The present day storyline takes us along the quest to find out who Neptune, the serial killer, is before it's too late. The book is told from Reggie's point of view, so her character is developed thoroughly as we are let into her thoughts. Throughout the book, Jennifer drops hints here and there about who Neptune could be. One chapter, he seems to be one person, and the next, we are led to believe he may be another person entirely. The last quarter of the book is difficult to put down, and I couldn't wait to find out who Neptune turned out to be.

I loved this book, and it was refreshing to read a suspense novel written well, as Jennifer classically does. I did figure out who Neptune was before it was revealed to us, but I had doubts because of the other potential characters.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I have read all of Ms. McMahon's previous books and found them uniformly excellent. This latest one is no exception: well written, with appealing characters, and a mystery at its heart. It seems that, in the mid 1980s a serial killer was cutting off the right hands of females, and depositing them on the steps of the local police station. Five days later the bodies would be placed somewhere in the town. The killer was never apprehended, and the last victim's right hand showed up, but her body never was found.

In 2010 the female protagonist is told that her mother, the last woman kidnaped, was not dead as had been feared, but was alive and suffering from a terminal illness. The mother is in a very confused state, and the daughter rushes to her childhood town and home to help. The chapters alternate, with events in 1985 and then in 2010, and also with excerpts from a book about the killings published by a local reporter in the `80s.

There occur a number of surprising moments, and the daughter resolves to discover if the killer, nicknamed "Neptune", has survived and if he will come after her mother. The worst happens and it appears that Neptune has returned, leaving the severed right hand of the daughter's friend in the usual place. She has five days to discover Neptune's identity and save her friend.

It's an exciting book, with red herrings tossed here and there, and with a climax that is heart-stopping. I hope Ms. McMahon continues to write such excellent novels, and I will certainly read them!
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Jennifer McMahon's new novel The One I Left Behind is a formulaic thriller/mystery that is saved by its strong characters. I found the story - about a serial killer who severs his victims' hands and leaves them for police to find - predictable and somewhat cliched. I guessed the identity of the killer fairly quickly, probably because I've seen this type of story so many times in so many other books and on TV shows. However, McMahon's strength here is her excellent characters, including the main one, Reggie - a young woman haunted by her past and her mother's disappearance/reappearance; Vera, Reggie's mom - an aging former beauty with a lot of issues; Reggie's childhood friend Tara, and many others who come across as very real.

I've read other books by this author and found them rather hit or miss. I loved Don't Breathe a Word, but Island of Lost Girls left me cold. I think she's a good writer but falls down a bit with her plots. As I said above, I think her strong point is her ability to create characters that are very believable and that we can care about.

One other thing is that McMahon, like many authors of this genre, tends to tell her story in a back-and-forth-in-time, broken up way that can be very irritating until you get used to it. I have read a lot of books that use this device, so I don't mind it, but when I have lent out this type of book, sometimes I get it back from the borrower saying "I can't follow stories written this way." So it might be something to consider if you're bothered by this.

Overall, this is an OK book and I would recommend it if you like the genre, but don't expect it to be great.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I really loved McMahon's Don't Breath a Word, but this thriller just didn't hold up for me. There's a lot of time jumping in this book, both in chapters that alternate between the present (2010) and 25 years prior, further compounded by constant flashbacks within the POV character's thoughts. While McMahon's prose is smooth, precise and unencumbered, the constant flashbacks, especially within the first quarter of the book, kept bouncing me out of the narrative and made the book a tougher read than I'd expected. I found myself wishing I could just read a scene that progressed from start to finish without constant diversions into the past. But the presence of the past is in large part essential to McMahon's theme in this book, so I expect the effect is intentional, even if it didn't work particularly well for this one reader.

But mainly I'm giving the book two stars based on the serial killer plot, which I found both predictable (the murderer is relatively easy to guess early on) and unbelievable by the end.

The strengths here are the characters. Reggie Dufrane is a fine protagonist, and her relationships with her friends and struggles with the issues of her family and past are all compelling. If you enjoy McMahon's characters, it's still worth the read. I just found myself wishing that the book had dealt with its serial killer in a more realistic fashion, perhaps by leaving it unsolved, because the resolution presented felt predictable, forced and unbelievable to me.
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