Review: The Sweet Relief of Missing Children

The Sweet Relief of Missing Children Book Cover

The Sweet Relief of Missing Children
By Sarah Braunstein
W.W. Norton & Company
February 28, 2011

The Short of It:

From the very first page, I was captivated.

The Rest of It:

I want to be especially careful when describing this story to you because although the title does indicate that it’s about a missing child, it’s also about love and loss, what it means to be a parent, self-discovery and fear. Told through alternating viewpoints, the story is given to us in bits and pieces with each section beautifully detailed.

In New York City, Leonora makes a dreadful mistake and ends up missing, without a trace. As she tells her story, the reader is  made painfully aware that she realized her mistake rather quickly, yet there was no way to change her course once the mistake was made.

Goldie is a single mom raising a young boy. She’s desperate to find the perfect man. One who will hopefully help raise her son, Paul. Although her intentions are good, she is overridden by fear. Fear that her looks are going. Fear that she will never find the perfect man. Her desperation completely alienates her son which forces him to run away in order to save himself.

Grace’s life is not quite what she expected. Her daughter has run away without any explanation. Searching her room for details, it occurs to her that she doesn’t really know who her daughter is. The realization of this forces her to recall a decision to made sixteen years ago. One in which she decided to keep her baby. Filled with “what ifs”, Grace ponders the life she’s been given.

Connie is playing the role of housewife, but there is a little piece of her that wants to tempt fate. As she and her husband raise their nephew, she fantasizes about the boy and gets encouragement from the boy’s dead mother, who appears to her when she needs a bit of guidance. The constant pull to do right, over wrong is what Connie obsesses over.

Then, there’s Tom. Tom has fantasies too, one of which involves peeping in on Goldie and her son, Paul.

The Sweet Relief of Missing Children is a stunning example of why I love reading. The stories come together effortlessly and the prose is delicate and pure in a way that I find terribly hard to describe, so here are some examples:

Connie, in her house coat ponders a nap in the middle of the day.

A nap was a crime on a day like this. It was a glorious day, a perfect spring day, but she didn’t want to be outside. Outside was hairy caterpillars and hippies, mud on your shoes, boys and girls shooting each other significant glances they were so stupid as to think no one saw. She saw. A nun could see. Heat. Halter tops. The way a jaw worked chewing gum. Outside was, to put it mildly, a mess; total rudeness. (154, 155)

It’s Paul’s birthday and his mother has not given him a proper gift.

What he wanted was the opposite of candor. He wanted the lie of silence and cake. He wanted a serene smile, and for her to take him into her arms, and to feel that she had no other need, and for her mouth to stop, just for tonight, his birthday. (29)

 I can’t say enough about this book. This is Braunstein’s first novel and all you probably need to know, is that once I finished it, I was tempted to turn to page one and start all over again. It has a slightly voyeuristic feel to it and once you start it, it’s nearly impossible to put down. I recommend it highly and I’m adding it to my list of faves for 2011.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.

27 thoughts on “Review: The Sweet Relief of Missing Children”

  1. Ti, this books sounds great! I love it when it a book captivates your attention from the beginning – that is when you know you are in for a good read. I’ll be adding this title to my “books to buy” list ASAP. Thanks for the heads up 🙂

    1. It held my attention, AND I re-read each page twice not because the story wasn’t clear, but because nearly every page had something beautiful written on it.

  2. I’m so so glad you enjoyed the book! The thing I enjoy most about reading is that deep and unexpected sense of connection one can find… of really “meeting” the writer on the page. It’s so rewarding to know that I’ve replicated the experience for someone else. This is why I write. Not for the praise (well, that feels great, I won’t lie!)– but for the sense of connection, of shared understanding. So thank you for the care and warm-heartedness of this review. Made my day.


  3. I am half-way through this book and totally in love with it. I pre-ordered it on my Kindle and woke up early yesterday to start it. I did my best to finish it yesterday, but sleep got in the way. I’m so glad you loved it. I think this one will be on my best of the year list.

    1. I read this one so long ago that I actually had to re-read some of it so I could accurately convey my feelings about it before writing the review. It was a treat the first time around, but the second time around was just as rewarding. So glad you are enojoying it.

  4. Wow, this sounds like a great read. Don’t you love when a writer puts together sentences so captivating you have to read them twice? I’m putting this on my list 🙂

  5. This is a really great review, Ti. I agree the book has a voyeuristic feel to it. I loved Braunstein’s prose, but I thought the novel itself lacked a little cohesiveness. Even still, I would pick up another book by this author again.

  6. I am definitely going to read this book. I keep hearing about it and have seen nothing but rave reviews. I am now ever more utterly curious to see what the fuss is about!

  7. This book sounds captivating and tough to put down once you start it. The few sentences you quoted about Connie wanting to nap and Paul’s birthday are beautifully written, such candid descriptions and raw and honest. Just wonderful. The little bit you told about the characters made me want to know much more about them.
    And stories set in NYC tend to pull at me too!

    Thank you for bringing this book to my/our attention, Ti!
    ~ Amy

  8. It sounds like there’s a lot going on in this book which makes the fact that a first time author was able to pull it all together with so much success really says something.

  9. Fantastic review, Ti, and one that makes me want to read the book right away! I must admit that I’ve felt a bit put off by the title of this book, so I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it so much!

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