If you’ve finished our “GMA” Book Club pick this month and are craving something else to read, look no further than our new digital series, “GMA” Buzz Picks. Each week, we’ll feature a new book that we’re also reading this month to give our audience even more literary adventures. Get started with or latest pick below!
This week’s “GMA” Buzz Pick” is “When the Stars Go Dark” by bestselling author of “The Paris Wife,” Paula McLain.
McLain weaves together true cases of missing persons, trauma theory and a hint of metaphysical in her new book about a detective who’s faced with a series of disappearances that reach into her past.
The story follows Anna Hart, a seasoned missing persons detective in San Francisco. When tragedy strikes her personal life, she flees to her childhood home in the coastal community of Mendocino in Northern California to grieve. But when she arrives, Anna learns that a teenage girl has gone missing and she is instantly reminded of an unsolved murder of a young girl that touched Mendocino and changed the community forever.
Hart becomes entangled with the case of the vanished girl, which will change and challenge her.
“Part love letter to my home state of California and the wildness of the natural world, part true crime novel with cases of real life missing persons woven into the story -- ‘When the Stars Go Dark’ is about the hidden, complex and chilling connection between predators and victims about how we can survive unsurvivable things, and about how sometimes it's our deepest source of pain that can lead us to our purpose,” McLain told “Good Morning America.” “I can't wait for you to read it.”
Get started with an excerpt below!
That night I float bodiless above a white crescent of beach as someone stumbles, running through tangled kelp and shadows. But there’s nowhere to go. It’s a girl, of course. She trips and falls to her knees, stands and falls again, scrambling backward on her hands, screaming and shaking. And then she quiets suddenly. Quiets the way an animal finally does, when it knows the chase is over.
I wake with a start, my heart thudding, and my skin slick with sweat. My fever must be back, I think, throwing off the scratchy blankets. Under my thick sweater my breasts are still bound in their tourniquet, but the swelling hasn’t gone down at all. My pain is dull but constant, a throbbing anchor point.
All around me, the dark is ice cold and seems to pool. I’ve forgotten how it feels to sleep in the woods, utterly isolated without street noise or neighbors, or light. Shoving my feet into a second pair of socks, I step out into the main room where the blinking microwave tells me it’s not quite 4:00 a.m. I’ve slept for five hours, maybe. Passed out is more like it.I find some ibuprofen and another sleeping pill, and swallow them down with whiskey, hoping to clear my head of the nightmare. I can only assume the girl was Cameron Curtis, my subconscious fabricating a version of her disappearance, caught up in the drama that’s always preoccupied me, long before I became a detective, even. As if cries for help that are forever ringing through the atmosphere get amplified as they cross my path, and sticky. As though they belong to me somehow, and I have no say in the mat- ter, no choice at all but to try and answer them.
The first thing I see when dawn arrives is the half-empty liquor bottle on the floor beside the sofa, my socks balled up on the coffee table. Behind my eyes, my hangover pulses, spangled. If Hap were here, he’d be concerned to see me drinking so much. He’d also be dressed already, face washed, coffee on the boil. He loved mornings and late nights, too. Sometimes I wondered if he slept at all, but it was comforting to think he was always there if I needed him, awake and at the ready. I wish that were still true.
I dress in layers, feeling the top button of my jeans sinking into the soft flesh at my waist, my fingertips grazing the puckered skin, like fresh scar tissue. I pull my hair back without checking my reflection and then fill my thermos with coffee before bolting the cabin door behind me and heading back toward the village.
When I reach the coast road, I turn the car north toward Jug Handle State Reserve. As a young ranger Hap had helped cut the trails in the park, a legacy he was always proud of. He was only twenty when he first started working for the National Forest Service, rising through the ranks until he became lead warden by the time I came to live with them, with oversight over dozens of rang- ers and fifty thousand acres of state-owned land.
His was a big job and sometimes a dangerous one. The stories he told were full of hunting accidents and hikers in dire straits, of teenagers pulled blue and lifeless from hidden quarries. He knew what a California grizzly could do to a man, and what men could do to one another out in that boundlessness.
Over the eight years I lived in Mendocino with the Straters, I became Hap’s student and sidekick, his shadow. At first I didn’t understand why he would want to spend so much time with me, or why he and Eden had taken me on to begin with. I’d already bounced through half a dozen homes without sticking. Why would this be different? It took time and numerous false starts for me to believe that Hap and Eden were what they appeared to be on the surface, just decent people who meant to be kind because they could. I tested and pushed, trying to goad them into sending me away like everyone else had. Once I ran off and slept in the woods, waiting to see if Hap would come and look for me. When he did, I thought he’d be angry or fed up with my nonsense, but he wasn’t. He only looked at me, damp and bedraggled, shivering from my night on the ground.
Walking me back to his truck, he said, “If you’re going to be out here on your own, let’s get you smart about it, so you can take care of yourself.”
“I can take care of myself already,” I said, putting up my guard automatically.
“Things have been hard on you. I know that. You’ve had to be tough to get through it, but toughness isn’t the same as strength, Anna.”
It was as if he had shined a light directly into my eyes, into the crevice in my heart I thought I’d hidden better. “What do you mean?”
We’d reached the truck and climbed in. He settled himself be- hind the wheel, seeming in no hurry to answer my question. Finally he turned to me and said, “Linda told us what happened to your mom, honey.”
Linda was Mrs. Stephens, my social worker. All I could do now was pretend I didn’t care what he knew or didn’t, what he thought of me or didn’t. “So?”
“I can’t even imagine what that must have been like for a kid your age. Honestly. It breaks my heart.”
Whatever thoughts were in my head vanished with a forced pop. On autopilot, I inched nearer to the door handle.
Hap noticed and grew very still. Only his eyes seemed to move and they saw everything. “I won’t stop you if you want to run away, but if you could take a chance on us and stay, I can teach you things that might help you later. Things that have helped me. About being in the woods.”
Keeping my eyes on the front windshield, the scrim of dust above the wiper blades, I shrugged to let him know he didn’t have my full attention.
“Nature demands our respect, Anna. It has a brutal side for sure, but if you can learn its language, there’s peace to be found too, and comfort. The best kind of medicine I know.”
From the book When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain. Copyright © 2021 by Paula McLain. Published this month by Ballantine, an imprint of Random House Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.