Allison's Book Bag

The Body in the Woods by April Henry

Posted on: July 9, 2014

Over the years, my husband has turned me on to the merits of a good crime novel, but normally I only find those in the adult section. April Henry is an author who might change that limitation. Henry is a New York Times-bestselling author of over a dozen mysteries and thrillers, some of which are for teens. I recently discovered her latest novel, The Body in the Woods, because of my interest in search and rescue. The atypical teen plot and sympathetic characters made it a win for me.

How is the plot atypical? For one thing, it’s about three teens who meet when they join Portland County’s Search and Rescue, because of which all kinds of unusual things can happen. For example, the teens can be summoned to search and rescue duty in the middle of a school day or in the dead of the night. On the surface, it may sound like this book is about a team of heroes with special powers, similar to many of the young adult fantasies being published today. But it’s not. These “heroes” can only serve on the search and rescue team if they keep their grades up and stay out of trouble. They must learn to work with a team, search for clues on a trail, and become part of the valuable work of finding missing people. They face real-world tension, akin to that found in hospitals and courts.

The plot is atypical in other ways. On their first mission the three are teamed up to search the woods for a lost autistic man, but when they find a dead body instead they’re suddenly catapulted into a crime investigation. If you think this sounds too unrealistic, keep in mind that Henry’s story is inspired by a real incident. While the stereotype of teens is that they’re all about having drinking binges, losing their virginity, or otherwise wasting their lives, many teens live interesting lives. Which gets me back to Henry’s book. 🙂 The Body in the Woods involves a serial killer. As the teens and the cops begin to piece together the mystery, they realize the killer is collecting different types of people. What they don’t realize is that one of our three main characters might fit into his collection. Now the stakes have been raised to the point where not only is this a good teen novel, but it’s also a heart-stopping thriller.

Up to this point, I have focused on the plot. However, this isn’t to downplay the importance of likable characters. Nick’s bravado hides his fear of never being good enough for his dad, who served in the army and now is absent from his life. His vulnerabilities felt more true to life than those bestowed upon our average dystopian hero. Alexis has spent her life covering for her mom’s mental illness. These teens do exist, both in real life and in problem novels, but I actually felt a little annoyed by how Henry used her to hint at a love story. Despite how romance seems synonymous with young adult novels, I felt The Body in the Woods would have been perfectly fine without it. Finally, Ruby is the oddest of the three. Psychologists and teachers would probably label her as having Asperger’s, while her peers just consider her weird, but I liked that Henry recognized how obsessions can be positive. Think of Monk (a lovable TV detective who is riddled with OCD), but guised as a female teen and you’ll have the idea. All of these individual stories were downplayed, which may be where Henry shows her background as an author for adults, but which also felt right for a crime novel.

I enjoyed The Body in the Woods and am excited to know that it will be just the first in a series called A Point Last Seen Mystery. Mysteries and thrillers for young people aren’t common, and thanks to Henry I have some to look forward to.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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