You can't just write a novel about the family of a missing teenager anymore; Oprah Winfrey and Lifetime Movies of the Week have dotted the genre with thousands of clichés. Miriam Gershow's The Local News, about a teenager named Lydia Pasternak whose brother Danny disappears, manages to avoid all these clichés and make it look easy.
Part of Lydia's charm is that she's not an angelic victim: For the most part, she's insufferable, staggering blindly through her grief, making great strides toward acceptance for a while and then getting drunk at a party and tearing her world to pieces all over again. You've got to love someone who manages to completely miss the point of an inspirational poster in her psychiatrist's office:
It was a reproduction of a Hockney-like painting, a front door of a house, opening onto a sudden, serene ocean instead of a front lawn. I'm sure it was meant to be soothing—an ocean of opportunities awaits you just outside your front door—but it struck me more as a warning: Take one wrong step and you're sunk.
Just because Lydia is selfish and wounded doesn't mean she's completely unlikable. She's got a marvelously wry, dry sense of humor, as when she occasionally mocks fellow high-school students who mangle efforts to console her. The Local News isn't flawless: Some bad metaphors pop up, including an especially wearing comparison of a teenage party to chaos theory that wouldn't have felt fresh even a decade ago. But compared to other novels in the teen-abduction genre, especially the cloying melodrama of the best-selling titan of the field, The Lovely Bones, it feels like a revelation.