This smart, crisply written thriller begins with a “ripped from the headlines” premise, but broadens to explore themes ranging from the mothering of daughters to the inwardness of suburban life and the lure of the megachurch in an era of consumerism.

The novel begins with the surprise return of Julie Whitaker, now 21, to her family eight years after she was abducted at knife point as her younger sister Jane watched helplessly. Since then, her family has suffered waves of damage, with parents Tom and Anna going through the motions of a marriage and consistently neglecting Jane, who’s now failing out of college.

Anna’s elation at Julie’s return is tempered by feelings of guilt and fury, and soon she begins to spot holes in her daughter’s story of being sold to a sex-trafficking ring in Mexico. Meanwhile, Julie is doing odd things such as dyeing her hair red to cover her roots and hiding a secret cellphone, and it appears she may, in fact, be an impostor.

In alternating chapters, the novel traces Anna’s anguished attempts to learn the truth and unwinds tales of teen girls on the run, on the streets, in group homes and foster homes — with the frequent common denominator of sexual abuse.

The second strand is a familiar strain in recent fiction, with its episodic horrors reminiscent of hits such as Janet Fitch’s 1999 novel “White Oleander.” The more propulsive narrative often belongs to Anna, a mother forced to confront failures she’s inherited and those of her own making.

 

Marian Ryan’s work has appeared in Slate, Salon, the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Mail on Sunday and other publications.

Good as Gone
By: Amy Gentry.
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 273 pages, $23.