Spotlight: Before She Was Found by Heather Gudenkauf
A gripping thriller about three young girlfriends, a dark obsession and a chilling crime that shakes up a quiet Iowa town
For twelve-year-old Cora Landry and her friends Violet and Jordyn, it was supposed to be an ordinary sleepover—movies and Ouija and talking about boys. But when they decide to sneak out to go to the abandoned rail yard on the outskirts of town, little do they know that their innocent games will have dangerous consequences.
Later that night, Cora Landry is discovered on the tracks, bloody and clinging to life, her friends nowhere to be found. Soon their small rural town is thrust into a maelstrom. Who would want to hurt a young girl like Cora—and why? In an investigation that leaves no stone unturned, everyone is a suspect and no one can be trusted—not even those closest to Cora.
Before She Was Found is a timely and gripping thriller about friendship and betrayal, about the power of social pressure and the price of needing to fit in. It is about the great lengths a parent will go to protect their child and keep them safe—even if that means burying the truth, no matter the cost.
Excerpt from the Journal of Cora E. Landry
Sept. 9, 2017
Guess what! A new girl showed up at school today. I can’t remember the last time someone actually moved to Pitch. Usually people move away from here. Or die of old age. My best friend since kindergarten moved to Illinois last year when her dad got a new job. Ellie’s mom said that Pitch was a dying town and I guess she’s right. Once the packing plant closed down lots of families left but no one who I liked as much as Ellie.
Ellie and I wrote letters and emailed back and forth for a while but then I guess she’s made new friends that keep her pretty busy. I haven’t heard from her since summer. I miss her so much that my stomach hurts. It’s so hard to go from having someone you can talk to about anything to having absolutely no one to hang out with.
After Ellie left, the world suddenly became very quiet. I can go days without anyone my age speaking to me. I told my mom that it would be much easier to keep in touch with Ellie if I had my own cell phone so we could at least text back and forth. Of course my mom said no. My parents think that I’m too young for one. Check back in when you’re fifteen, my dad said. I told him that by then everyone will have forgotten that I exist, so never mind.
The new girl’s name is Violet and she has pretty black hair and is from New Mexico. Jordyn said that her grandma saved Violet and her mom and brother when their engine exploded outside of town. She said they were standing in the dark on the side of the road when her grandma pulled up next to them in her truck. They all piled into the front cab and Mrs. Petit drove them into town and dropped them off at the Do Pull Inn.
I don’t know if I believe Jordyn. She doesn’t always tell the truth. I guess Violet and her family are going to stay because Violet says that her mom got a job at the gas station and they rented a house on Hickory Street.
I felt kind of sad after she told me that. Violet seems nice but my mom will never let me go over to her house. Hickory Street is where my sister, Kendall, and her best friend, Emery, say the meth heads live. I asked Emery how she could possibly know that and she told me to get a good look at their teeth. Without trying to be too obvious, I tried to see Violet’s teeth and they seemed just fine to me. Emery told me to check again in a few months. It takes time for enamel to turn to mush.
Not to brag, but we live in a pretty nice house. It’s made of brick that my mom says is salmon-colored. I think it looks more pinkish but whatever. I have my own bedroom and we have a rec room in the basement where we keep the foosball table, the karaoke machine and the Xbox. We have a huge trampoline in the backyard with a net around it so no one falls off and breaks their neck.
Last year, after we got the trampoline, lots of my classmates came over to try it out but that stopped once school started again and it got colder. Kendall says it’s because I’m weird and if I tried harder I’d have friends.
In social studies class we sit in pods and Mr. Dover pulled an empty desk from the corner and added it to my group so Violet would have somewhere to sit. She didn’t say much, just sort of watched everyone.
At one point, when Mr. Dover said that we were going to take the ITP tomorrow and it was a very important test that the Department of Education makes every student take to see if we could make it to college, I thought Violet was going to start crying. Violet told me that she hasn’t been to school much in the last couple of months because of the move and all.
I whispered to her not to worry, that it wasn’t that big of a deal. That all teachers seemed to talk about anymore was “college and career readiness.” I made air quotes with my fingers and Violet smiled. I was hoping that Violet would sit next to me during lunch but Jordyn got to her first. Oh, well, maybe tomorrow.
I ended up sitting next to Joy Willard, which is okay. One thing I like about my school is that they don’t let people get away with saving seats or telling people that you can’t sit next to them. If Mrs. Morris, the lady who supervises the lunchroom, sees you don’t have anyone to sit next to she’ll send you to a specific spot. I swear she’s got this superpower that kicks in the minute you carry your tray from the food line. She sees you desperately looking around the cafeteria for a place to sit and then she swoops in and points. “No arguing, Landry,” she’ll say. “Sit there and start eating. This isn’t Perkins, you know.” Even the jerks don’t talk back.
Then at lunch I felt something hit me in the back. I turned to see what it was and I saw a tater tot on the floor behind where I was sitting. I turned back around and it happened four more times. Plop, plop, plop, plop. The last tater tot landed in my hair and stuck there. I pulled it out and turned around to see who was throwing them. Jordyn and some other girls were sitting at the table behind me and were trying not to laugh. I know it was her. Violet was just staring down at her lunch tray like she didn’t see what happened. At least she wasn’t laughing.
When I got home and took off my shirt there were four dark spots on the back. Like four greasy bullet holes. I don’t know why Jordyn’s being so mean to me. I’ve never done anything to her. Ever.
At least I have just about every class with Violet. Everything but math and home base, which is what they used to call homeroom in elementary school. My mom is the school secretary at the elementary school I went to last year. It’s kind of weird not being in the same building together anymore, but I’m glad. I would never tell my mom that, though. She keeps saying things like, “Don’t you miss seeing me every day, Cora?”
I really don’t miss it. I never realized how awkward it was having my mom around all the time. She knew every move I made. Let me tell you, the school secretary knows everything and I mean everything.
Last year I found out that my second grade teacher was having an affair with the gym teacher. Of course, my mom didn’t come right out and tell me this; I overheard her telling my dad. I also learned that Mr. Simon, the custodian, had brain cancer and that Darren Moer, a kid in my class, had lice again for the third time. Needless to say, having a mom as the school secretary had its perks, but it feels kind of freeing knowing that she’s a few miles away and can’t peek in the classroom at any point during the day just to see how I’m doing.
After the last bell rang I started turning my combination lock—56 left, 13 right, 2 left—when Tabitha came up behind me and reached over and spun the lock in the wrong direction, screwing everything up. I started over and then Charlotte did the same thing. My mom was waiting outside for me and I knew she would be mad at me for taking so long. I tried to open my locker for the third time and Jordyn came up and messed me up all over again.
I leaned my head against the locker door and tried not to cry, then I heard Gabe say, “Real mature, Jordyn.” And like it always does when I see Gabe, my stomach flipped. Gabe was sticking up for me!
“We’re just joking around,” Jordyn said. “You’re not mad, are you, Cora?” Jordyn asked in this fakey voice. I shook my head even though I felt like slapping her. “See?” Jordyn said, looking at Gabe all innocent.
“Here, let me help,” Gabe said. “What’s your combo?” The last thing I needed was having Jordyn know my locker combination so I waited until Jordyn left before I told him the numbers. Gabe opened my locker and said, “Just ignore her. Jordyn can be such a bitch sometimes. See you tomorrow.”
My face was burning up I was blushing so hard. Jordyn and some of the other girls might not like me but Gabe does. I grabbed my book bag, shut my locker, and that’s when I saw Mr. Dover watching me from his classroom doorway. My stomach flipped over again, but not in a good way.
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