Book Review: Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan

Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'NanWhen I met Care of Care’s Online Book Club for lunch in Amsterdam, she gave me this book. I had never heard of the author but since then I’ve heard several people mentioning this writer as a favorite.

Care and I decided to read this at the same time, as she has another copy of the book. Laurie of Bay State Reader’s Advisory joined in too! Care made up some questions that we’ll all be answering in our post on Songs of the Missing, so do check out their posts too (online today).

Songs for the Missing: What it is about

From the publishers: “Returning again to the theme of working-class people and their wrenching concerns, Songs for the Missing begins with the suspenseful pace of a thriller, following an Ohio community’s efforts to locate a young woman who has gone missing. It soon deepens into an affecting portrait of a family trying desperately to hold onto itself and the memory of a daughter whose return becomes increasingly unlikely. Stark and honest, this is an intimate account of what happens behind the headlines of a very American tragedy.”

Songs for the Missing: What I thought

I loved especially  the beginning of the book. First the reader gets to know Kim, before she suddenly disappears. She seems a nice, typically teenage, girl with a summer job, a boyfriend and other friends to hang out with.

Then she disappears and the rest of the book is about how the people around her deal with this. Her father and her friends (and a lot of the community) go on organised searches, while her mother does the media and online updates.

The book is well-written and the story slowly moves towards a certain ending. While really not a lot happens, it was interesting to keep reading. I very much enjoyed the story of the parents, and how they each dealt with their daughter’s disappearance – and their reaction to each other. The stories of the sister and Kim’s teenage friends didn’t seem as convincing.

This was a family drama novel rather than a mystery, although, of course, the parents and their friends and family did whatever they could to get Kim back home.

Discussion questions

1. Was this your first read of this author? Will you read more?

Yes, I had not heard of Stewart O’Nan before. I very much enjoyed this book but it didn’t stand out. I will read another book by him if I come across it.

2. What did you guys think of Kim?

I liked her a lot, and it was a pity when she left the story (when she went missing). But afterwards, we find out she hadn’t been quite that nice a girl really. I loved to read about her darker side.

3. SPOILERS Did you have any preconceived notions about this book and were they realized?

SPOILERS I thought Kim would be found quite early on in the book (alive or dead, I was hoping she’d merely ran away). But that’s because I never read the back of the book before starting the book! Otherwise, I’d known it wasn’t likely to happen. 🙂

4. Did you have a favorite character?

I felt sorry for Lindsay, Kim’s sister, who is trying to live through her teenage years as well as possible, while her parents are searching for Kim. I loved it that she becomes an independent person and goes her own way, even if her parents are understandably worried about her safety.

5. SPOILERS Ultimately, O’Nan doesn’t really focus on what happens to Kim; what do you think happened?

SPOILERS I wasn’t really sure whether I missed some clues as to what happened to Kim, so I’m glad you are asking this question! She knew some dodgy people and I assumed they had something to do with her disappearance. Looking forward to seeing what Care and Laurie’s answers are on this one!

Now check out what Care and Laurie thought about the book!

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5) (Good)

Number of pages: 304

First published: 2008

I got this: from Care of Care’s Online Book Club

Genre: contemporary fiction, mystery


About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

14 Responses to Book Review: Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan

  1. Pingback: Songs for the Missing | Care's Online Book Club

  2. Nadine Nys says:

    I had also never heard about this author before, but the book sounds intiguing, Judith.

  3. Care says:

    Thank you so much for joining me in reading this. It does add an extra element of fun to know I will be discussing a book with another good reader and appreciator of literature. I do think this is an author to know and look forward to more. He is excellent at character study.
    SO interesting that we differed on our reactions to Kim. I was not expecting to know much about her at all and wonder if the author purposely gave her just enough for us to have the question about whether or not she was taken or ran away. He could capture a lot of details and yet keep it all so vague while still making it a captivating read. And it had a lot of punch for a short book.

  4. Sounds like a great story, though I’m more a type for the really thrilling stories 😉

  5. Laurie C says:

    Great answers! SPOILERS IN THIS COMMENT! I never read the back of the book either. Usually it gives away too much of the plot for me, too. I had some hope of Kim’s safe return for about the first third of the book, I would say, but gave up hope when Kim’s father did, I guess. I thought the author gave us enough information by the end to know that the mentally ill guy who confessed to the crime and then committed suicide (or was killed?) in jail was the one who had taken Kim. He did have her necklace and she kept a very regular work schedule at the isolated convenience store, and I believe her body was found in the vicinity of where he said he had buried it.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Laurie, I don’t remember the mentally ill guy too well, but I think it sounded too likely that it was him, and, this being a quality novel, therefore could not be him. 🙂

      • Laurie C says:

        That could be! I thought the author was trying to leave readers with the same indefinite closure and uncertainty that the characters ended up with because there was no trial, conviction, and sentence.

      • Leeswammes says:

        That makes sense, Laurie! I love your explanations, you understood this book much better than I did.

  6. It’s great that you got to meet Care! I’m a big fan of Stewart O’Nan and hope to read this book eventually.

  7. I’ve heard of this author, but never been motivated to give him a try. Your comments on little plot don’t change that! Maybe one day I’ll pick up one of his others and see what everyone is talking about 🙂

    • Leeswammes says:

      Jackie, I do think you’d appreciate his writing style. He’s very good at putting a story together – I’d say this is a psychological novel (about a family’s dealing with loss) and because of that, it didn’t need a big plot.

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