Updated: Nov 10, 2019
Title: Leave No Trace
Author: Mindy Mejia
Rating: ★★★★ (4/5)
Description: There is a place in Minnesota with hundreds of miles of glacial lakes and untouched forests called the Boundary Waters. Ten years ago a man and his son trekked into this wilderness and never returned.
Search teams found their campsite ravaged by what looked like a bear. They were presumed dead until a decade later...the son appeared. Discovered while ransacking an outfitter store, he was violent and uncommunicative and sent to a psychiatric facility. Maya Stark, the assistant language therapist, is charged with making a connection with their high-profile patient. No matter how she tries, however, he refuses to answer questions about his father or the last ten years of his life
But Maya, who was abandoned by her own mother, has secrets, too. And as she’s drawn closer to this enigmatic boy who is no longer a boy, she’ll risk everything to reunite him with his father who has disappeared from the known world.
(Trigger Warning: Attempted Sexual Assault, Murder, and Violence)
Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia is a suspenseful mystery novel that puts its own unique twist on the genre. The story follows the main character, Maya Stark, who is the predominant but not the only narrator. Throughout the novel she unravels the mystery that is Lucas Blackthorn and his past which transcends to the present time.
The routine of the psychiatric hospital adds an element of repetitive sameness in stark contrast to the mystery and the world outside. The writing is smooth and concise, guiding the reader from point to point until the ultimate destination. While in the beginning the events may not necessarily be as action packed as they are toward the end, they are more so focused on the psychological element. Despite this, it still manages a constant buildup as more clues are unveiled.
Maya is a different main character from what one expects in a book such as Leave No Trace - in a good way. Maya's kind and, possibly more frequently, cold heart shines through as you read. She is a character with a dark past that has left its mark on her. She doesn't always play the good narrator role, instead filling it with her own brand of moral greyness.
Lucas is a character with secrets locked away that almost feel impossible to extract or even comprehend. The suspicions and questions stack up to paint a slowly developing picture of the events that took place in the life of Lucas Blackthorn. Puzzle pieces lock together through the direct and often short responses from him during his stay at Congdon.
A relationship forms between Maya and Lucas that is tentatively unique. It starts out in a curious manner widely varying from most I've read. A blooming relationship soon takes to the forefront of the narrative. There's a kinship between them that carries the story. Their relationship is one you get to watch grow and evolve into something more than what can be described with words. Interactions between Maya and Lucas, while admittedly odd, also show a desire to know more about one another - to understand what brought and will keep them together.
It's not even just the mystery that keeps the reader attached to the story, though that is also a part of it. The personal connections between the characters propel the story forward. The relationships formed are tentative and slow progressing like the melting of a glacier. They feel real and natural much like the Boundary Waters themselves that are frequently referred to.
Romance in the book doesn't feel manufactured to force itself into the narrative. It is real and natural like it breathes with every new page. All the romance elements blossom in a weird and, at times, unrealistic environment but saying that it still manages to be genuine. The relationship between Maya and Lucas can be very star-crossed. It gets to a point where you want the best for them, whatever that may be, and hope that they can find themselves.
Keeping track of the details to form a whole picture of what has, had, and will happen is like following the delicate strands of a spider web. Back stories are delivered interestingly so as to give hints of understanding while still keeping the reader yearning for more. All the little details are meaningful and add value to the mystery at hand. The reader can feel the weight of the pasts that haunt all the characters.
Mindy Mejia is a master at telling a story that leaves you on the edge of your seat. She makes even the smallest of actions somehow important. The author is great at the kind of symbolism that manages to be both impactful while not overdone. Her words paint a clear picture of the world around the characters. This is true in both the happiest and darkest of times as the story maintains a strong connection to the land around it. The setting only works to amplify the events and emotions that take place in the pages.
Only shifting pov's occasionally was a smart choice by the author. It breaks up any monotony and adds another layer as at times you get to live through a more mysterious character's eyes. Time spent apart or simply with little interaction between the characters still manages to leave a gut feeling with the reader. It's the kind that effects a person so profoundly it becomes their own. There's humor in moments where the world can seem its darkest. It adds dimension to the scenes and the people living them. Actions are detailed and sure, making the reader feel more at ease with the finer aspects of survival in the Boundary Waters.
The story actually seems to have finished the premise early on but that doesn't mean the author is done yet. It continues into new and interesting territory that, while loosely attached, isn't a repetition of what has already happened. The novel goes in a completely different direction than expected - and saying that it's not bad.
Almost a complete 180 of any expectations the reader may have set is done. It's abrupt and sudden but also done so that you can't look away or bother to think too hard about the change. Everything interconnects to bring the story full circle. The ending was a perfect conclusion to the story. It manages to balance the desire for a happily ever after and the need of consequences for one's actions.
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