Part detective novel, part ghost story, this brilliant debut asks a tantalizing question: What really happens when a girl goes missing?
“A thrilling, many-faceted, gothic novel: Erin Kate Ryan’s Quantum Girl Theory belongs in the same company as the work of Shirley Jackson and Carmen Maria Machado.”—Kelly Link, author of Get in Trouble
ONE OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED BOOKS OF 2022—CrimeReads
Mary Garrett has a gift for finding missing girls, a special kind of clairvoyance she calls “the sight.” Lured by a poster and the promise of a reward, she arrives at a small town in the Jim Crow South to discover that not one but three girls have vanished—two of whom are Black, and whose disappearances have gone uninvestigated outside their own community. She sets out to find them.
As it turns out, Mary is herself a “missing girl.” In another life, she was a Bennington College sophomore named Paula Jean Welden, who disappeared one night in 1946. The case captivated the nation’s imagination, triggering front-page headlines, scores of dubious sightings, and a wave of speculation: Who was Paula Jean, really, and why had she disappeared?
As Mary’s search for the three missing girls intensifies, so do the glimpses of Paula Jean’s other possible lives: She is a circus showgirl hiding from her past, a literary forger on the verge of being caught, a McCarthy-era informant in love with a woman she meets in a Communist cell. With the signals multiplying, the locals beginning to resent her presence, and threats coming from all sides, Mary wonders whether she can trust anyone—most of all herself.
Both a captivating mystery and a powerful thought experiment, Quantum Girl Theory spins out a new way of seeing those who seem to disappear before our eyes.
About the Author
Erin Kate Ryan’s fiction has been published in VQR, Glimmer Train, The Normal School, and elsewhere. She is a James Jones First Novel Fellow and a McKnight Artist Fellow. She holds an MFA in fiction from the Bennington Writing Seminars, where she was an Alumni Fellow. She lives in the Hudson Valley with her partner and found family.
“Fascinating . . . Ryan’s deep and simmering novel follows how the stories of missing girls become co-opted into other narratives, and how, in the process, they become other people.”—CrimeReads, “Most Anticipated of 2022”
“Quantum Girl Theory is a doubly impressive feat—a dark, dizzying mystery about the fate of three missing girls in 1960s North Carolina studded with a series of elegant meditations on loss, violence and identity. It stayed with me long after I put it down.”—Alexandra Andrews, author of Who Is Maud Dixon?
“Clever and imaginative, Quantum Girl Theory is a dazzling, dizzyingly fresh take on the missing person narrative, a novel full of insight into the lives of girls and women.”—Karen Thompson Walker, author of The Age of Miracles
“Inventive . . . Ryan’s novel takes up what true-crime aficionados would call the ‘less dead’: victims of violence or missing people from marginalized communities who fail to garner the same attention as idealized victims—namely, straight young White women. Ryan takes a meta approach here; the novel is as much about the way we mythologize this type of missing and murdered victim as it is a twisty mystery. . . . A puzzler that is both brainy and full of satisfying narrative brawn.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Intriguing . . . [Ryan] has a knack for clever turns of phrase and imbues her concept with smart insights on the public’s fascination with missing girls and young women.”—Publishers Weekly