Friday, June 9, 2017


MISPLACED by Lee Murray (Leapy Sheep, 2013)

Reviewed by Jemma Richardson

Dream cars have no registration plate. One evening, just before tea, Adam’s mum pops out for the milk and doesn’t come back, launching a frantic nationwide search. After weeks with no leads, the television crews drift away, the police start asking hairy questions, and Adam’s dad starts seeing someone else. Adam’s life is falling apart. But perhaps it was already unravelling and Adam just hadn’t seen the signs? He’s spending so much time in the counsellor’s office, he’s beginning to think he’s a head-case. Then he meets Skye, who it seems has misplaced a parent too, and things start to look up. That is, until a body is found…

Set in Tauranga, Misplaced follows a teenage boy, Adam, as his life unravels after his mother goes missing one evening. As a teen novel, the story uses the mystery as a jumping point to explore the confusing and fractured life of a teenage boy as he tries to navigate his way through school, family drama, friendships and romance. From the opening chapter to the last page, Murray holds her reader’s interest firmly in the palm of her hand.

Murray makes the thriller aspect of the novel feel realistic by setting the story in small town New Zealand suburbia, using the mundanity of everyday life to highlight the shock of Adam’s mother’s disappearance.  The mystery surrounding Adam’s mother and the clues that lead to nowhere only emphasise the helplessness of Adam. 

Murray succeeds at both mystery and teen fiction here, using the disappearance to amplify already existing concerns that come with being a teenager.  Aside from trying to find his mum, Adam is also worried about his blossoming romance with Skye, his friendships, juggling school exams with sports commitments and having his first experiences with drugs and parties. Although the drama remains fairly tame, Murray’s depiction of teen life is light but not altogether untrue. The characterization, particularly of the teenagers, is accurate and endearing, showing them as alternately confident, funny, sweet and awkward.

Despite the inciting incident focussing on Adam’s mother, the novel keenly explores other tensions too: Adam coping with his Dad’s new girlfriend, Skye’s desperation to connect with her father, Adam’s grandfather’s Alzheimer’s disease and his relationship with his grandmother. Listing it makes it sound like the story tries to do too much, but Murray manages to strike the delicate balance of it all and hits every note. She adds humour in the right places but also knows when to let the darker moments hold their ground. Using failed romantic relationships, family relationships and friendships, Misplaced focusses on the universal pain of missed connections in such a poignant way that readers, teenage ones especially, can relate to it.

Murray’s writing is excellent, balancing beautiful descriptions with believable teen language and grounding the story in reality, although Adam’s interior monologues at the end of most chapters are less believable. In these instances Murray lets her own skill with prose interfere with the language of a teenage boy, making the eloquence and poetic introspection feel a little forced and unnatural, however she always gets it right when writing his dialogue from third person. Murray is an excellent storyteller, and Misplaced is an easy and entertaining read.

This review was first published in FlaxFlower reviews, which focuses on in-depth reviews of New Zealand books, and is reprinted here with kind permission. 

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