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Overall Summary

Lisa Jewell’s novel, Then She Was Gone, follows Laurel Mack in her search for answers regarding her daughter Ellie’s disappearance. Jewell gradually unfolds the details of the past and looks inside the mind of a psychopath who kidnapped Ellie, while chronicling the steps Laurel must take to heal from sorrow that has consumed her. This guide refers to an edition published in 2018 by Atria Books.

Plot Summary:

When Ellie Mack goes missing, Laurel’s life falls apart. Her marriage ends and she doesn’t have a close relationship with her two remaining children or herself. However, when they find Ellie’s partial remains, she says goodbye at the funeral but finds herself in a mystery instead of closure.

Laurel was happy when she met Floyd, but when she met his nine-year-old daughter Poppy, she realized that Poppy looked exactly like her sister Ellie. Laurel healed from the past and found herself enjoying life again with Floyd. She forgave her ex-husband Paul, spent time with her elderly mother and started to build a relationship with Hanna. She realized that she had always seen Hanna as a consolation prize for not having Ellie in her life anymore instead of seeing Hanna as an amazing person in her own right.

Along the way, Laurel notices some strange coincidences. For example, Noelle disappeared around the same time Ellie did. Furthermore, Floyd’s other daughter said she saw a pregnant woman who didn’t have a baby bump at eight months pregnant. That woman was Noelle Donnelly, and it appeared that Ellie was her tutor before she vanished. In addition to that clue, there are several things about Floyd and Poppy that seem unusual or even wrong in some ways. It seems like they’re coached on what to say and do because of how self-assured Poppy is at times. Moreover, Floyd lies about Noelle when Laurel asks him questions about her whereabouts during their investigation into Ellie’s disappearance.

Meanwhile, in flashbacks, Noelle recounts her obsession with Floyd and the ups and downs of their relationship. She feels that having a baby will help her keep his affection; however, she suffers multiple miscarriages. Then she meets Ellie, her bright and beautiful new tutee. She becomes obsessed with Ellie because being around Ellie will make her happier and solve all the problems in her relationship with Floyd; however, this does not happen as planned. Noelle lures Ellie into her house by befriending her after class at school; then drugs and impregnates Ellie using sperm from a donor without telling Floyd about it or seeking his consent for fatherhood. When Poppy is born (named after both Floyd’s mother “Poppy” as well as one of the teachers at school), he falls in love instantly but still breaks up with Noelle due to his feelings for another woman named Gabby who has been helping him raise money for college through selling marijuana on campus. Meanwhile,Noelle abandons poor little Poppy in the basement when she gets sick because she doesn’t want to take care of either one of them anymore.

When Poppy is a toddler, Noelle admits that she’s unfit as a parent and tells him they should give her to someone else. Floyd instantly labels his wife insane and beats her up before killing her by accident.

The author flashes forward to the present day, when Laurel goes to Floyd’s house and watches his taped confession. He admits that he killed Noelle and explains why he did so. He says that he truly loved Laurel and wants what’s best for her. He entrusts Poppy (Ellie) to Laurel, who is Ellie’s biological grandmother, then leaves the house shortly after making this confession. Shortly thereafter, Floyd kills himself because of all the trauma involved with Ellie’s disappearance from their lives years ago. Despite learning about these details surrounding Ellie’s death and disappearance from their lives long ago, Laurel finds new meaning in her life as she renews a close relationship with Hanna and now gets to be a mother figure to Poppy (Ellie’s daughter). She has found healing through uncovering details of the past by finding purpose in her life once again.

Then She Was Gone Book Summary, by Lisa Jewell