MAINE — This spring, acclaimed author Jan Elizabeth Watson (“Asta in the Wings” 2012), makes her first foray into suspense with her hardcover debut, “What Has Become of You” (Dutton; May 1, 2014).

From the first page, this tautly plotted literary thriller reels the reader into its twisting language and shocking story, all while asking the delightfully disturbing question — who can you trust when you can’t trust yourself?

“What Has Become of You” delves into the life of Vera Lundy, an intelligent and slightly off-beat substitute teacher who spends most of her time digging through true-crime books at the library in search of inspiration for her own waning manuscript. When Vera takes on a long-term substitute position at a small town New England prep school, she finds herself in over her head. As she begins teaching the young women of the Wallace School Salinger’s infamous “Catcher in the Rye,” her insight into her student’s lives begins to interfere with her own.

As the days pass, Vera realizes that this small Maine town is anything but picturesque. The whole community is still reeling from the recent murder of a local teenage girl, and both the townspeople and Vera’s students are on edge. Their restlessness and her own odd reactions to the mounting violence force Vera to step back and reevaluate her role in the town’s torrid reactions to the recent crimes.

Enter Jensen Willard, Vera’s most promising and most unnerving student. At 15, she’s already a gifted writer, though her work is dark and edges on morbid. Yet the more time Vera spends with this young student and her writing, the more she perceives Jensen as a younger version of herself, another outsider. As the two outcasts forge a tentative friendship, lines begin to blur when it comes to teacher-student, truth-lies … guilt-innocence.

As Vera and the reader sink deeper into the story, Watson masterfully splices Vera’s narrative with Jensen’s classroom journal assignments that Jensen takes more and more personally. As Vera becomes Jensen’s confidant more than teacher, Watson juxtaposes Vera’s mixed reactions with Jensen’s personal thoughts in seamless prose. The reader is confronted with not one but two unreliable narrators as the tensions between guilt and innocence begin to strain Vera’s relationships with her students, and even her understanding of herself.


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