The Body in the Woods by April Henry

By Ekta R. Garg

June 18, 2014

Rated: Bookmark it!

Three teens make a gruesome discovery as part of a search and rescue team: a dead body. When they try to unravel the mystery of the body, they soon realize they’re working against an undeclared deadline. More girls die, and no one can figure out whether the deaths share a connection. The teens work together and start to make sense of the whole situation, but when no one listens to them they realize they may have to take action. April Henry gives readers a compelling novel, the first in a series, in The Body in the Woods.

Alexis, Nick, and Ruby get a call during the school day: a man has gotten lost in Forest Park, the natural park in the middle of Portland, Oregon. All three feel the tingle of excitement. They’ve only trained with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue (SAR) team for a handful of sessions, but they can’t wait to put that training to use in this first call. They reach join the rest of the team at Forest Park and receive their instructions.

Ruby tries to keep everyone on track. No one understands the world the way she does. But joining SAR gave her a chance to use her intelligence and unusual interests to their fullest potential. She knows she can find the missing person by adhering to the rules and using all information at their disposal.

Nick wants desperately to fill the boots of the father who died in combat. He doesn’t remember his dad, but Nick has no doubt his father was a hero. SAR gives him a chance to be a hero too.

Alexis sees SAR as her chance out of a difficult situation. Her mother suffers from a mental disorder, and Alexis has spent years acting as the adult and even sometimes fending for herself. By participating in SAR she feels like she’ll have the opportunity to rebuild her life.

Because of their lack of experience, the team leaders put all three on an outlying team. Despite that, Alexis, Ruby, and Nick try to go through the motions of their training. As they make their way down one of the paths, they discover a dead woman. After the initial shock, they alert their team leaders.

The body brings up different feelings in all three. Alexis starts to fear for her mother, who disappears on occasion. Nick imagines himself as the one to find the killer and bring justice to the woman’s spirit. Ruby’s mind kicks into overdrive, and she starts looking for clues to the killer’s identity. The three start to work together to try to figure out exactly what happened.

Unfortunately no one listens to the teens, dismissing them because of their age and lack of experience with SAR. In the meantime another young woman dies. When the friends hear of the new girl’s death, they know they’ve stumbled across the work of a serial killer. But why doesn’t anyone believe them? And can they pull together enough convincing evidence to prove their point before another girl dies?

Author April Henry builds a compelling story. Despite the YA label, readers of any age will find themselves turning pages to find out what happens next. Henry balances the mystery of the killer with the personal stories of the three main characters with ease. Readers will want to find out more about Alexis, Nick, and Ruby. Fortunately Henry will give readers that satisfaction: The Body in the Woods serves as the first book in her new series called “Point Last Seen.”

Make no mistake: Henry doesn’t accomplish anything earth-shattering in her book. But she also doesn’t set out to write the next great American novel. She begins her novel with a simple premise, and she fulfills her proposal in a manner that will offer satisfying reading. Sometimes simple concepts executed in a simple way accomplish much more than a flat plot written in pretty prose. Henry achieves her goal with full distinction.

In addition to giving readers compelling characters, Henry offers a glimpse into the hard work performed by SAR teams. Such work may look glamorous on TV or in the movies, but Henry emphasizes the realistic point of view and this aspect of the work becomes a key part of the plot. Also the book doesn’t elevate its teen protagonists to out-of-this-world heroes. Adults may not always take teenagers seriously because of preconceived notions; Alexis, Nick, and Ruby face this challenge in fair measure, which gives the plot’s climax that much more weight.

I highly recommend The Body in the Woods and look forward to the next book in the series. Any reader will enjoy the mystery.

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