EMILY CALLAHAN, AN 18-year-old senior at posh Callahan Preparatory Academy on Galveston Island, goes missing after a Mardi Gras party and is found 10 weeks later floating in the bay. She is alive, but has no memory of what happened. Intrigued? That’s the idea behind Kristen Bird’s debut novel The Night She Went Missing.
Bird, a Sugar Land resident and teacher at Kinkaid School, was teaching a journalism course when she ran across a New Yorker article about Hannah Upp, a woman who had gone missing for weeks in Manhattan, only to be found floating in New York Harbor, alive. “My mind started circling the idea, and I started saying ‘what if, what if, what if…’ and here we are,” she says.
Bird spent several years teaching at O’Connell Preparatory School in Galveston, while studying for a master’s degree in literature at UH Clear Lake. “I got to know the culture of the island, which has deep class divides, and I wanted to explore how a disappearance of a girl might impact the community.”
The story revolves around the roles three mothers take in investigating what happened: Emily’s mom Catherine, a member of one of Galveston’s founding families (in this case, the fictional Callahans, who run the prep school); the mother of a football player, who’d previously been accused of rape and was seen leaving a party with Emily the night she disappeared; and the mother of Emily’s friend.
That Emily, when she’s found, has a new tattoo and is pregnant only deepens the mystery. Think The Lovely Bones crossed with Big Little Lies.
The novel is actually Bird’s third; the prior two are still in a drawer. A mom of three pre-teen daughters, with a husband who is a pastor, Bird finds time to write “on school holidays, weekends and during the summer” — though this novel was finished quickly, and she found both a literary agent and a publisher almost immediately. A second book, set in her native Alabama, is under contract. “It takes place near the foothills of the Appalachians where I grew up,” she says. “It opens with three sisters, all with dirt under their fingernails, standing around a grave. The question for me to answer is: How did they get there and who is in that grave?”
What if, what if, what if…