Ellie Mack is a high school student. She has a boyfriend of one year, Theo Goodman, and she is happy. She goes missing.
Part One Chapters 1 - 12
Laurel Mack is Ellie's mother. Hanna (middle child) and Jake (oldest) are Ellie's siblings. Ellie, the youngest, was the golden child of the family and went missing 10 years ago, in May 2005. Paul (their father) and Laurel divorced after Ellie went missing. The family has grown apart. Hanna is distant and works all the time.
The last sighting of Ellie was from a security camera, of her at intersection nearby. There have been no leads in the intervening years. Now, ten years later, a TV show, Crimewatch
, has done a show on the disappearance. Now, an investigation has turned up Ellie's backpack, but it reinforces the police's notion that she ran away. Laurel reluctantly admits that there was a burglary at their house soon after Ellie disappeared, and perhaps it was Ellie going back to pick up some stuff.
(2005) Before she went missing, Ellie had been struggling with math class. Ellie asked for a tutor, and Noelle Donnelly was recommended. It went well, but Noelle started to weird Ellie out, so Ellie stopped the lessons. After the lessons stopped, Noelle runs into Ellie and offers her some practice materials. Ellie, not wanting to be rude, accepts. They go to Noelle's house, and Ellie isn't seen again.
The police also find some partial human remains. It's Ellie. It looks like she was run over and then buried in the forest. They bury her. It all seems concluded, but a month later, Laurel meets a man named Floyd.
Part Two Chapters 13-22
Laurel meets Floyd Dunn at a cafe, and they go to dinner at a Eritrean restaurant. Floyd has two kids, a 21-year-old named Sara-Jade (from his first marriage to Kate Virtue
) and Poppy, 9-year-old from a casual relationship. Poppy's mother abandoned her at his doorstep when Poppy was four.
Floyd writes books about mathematics and number theory. On their next day, he tells her he Googled her and knows about Ellie. They sleep together. Laurel meets his kids, and is floored when she realizes Poppy looks just like Ellie. Poppy and Floyd have a very close relationship, which unnerves Laurel a little. But overall, Laurel is much more excited and happy due to her relationship than she has been in a long time.
Hanna pays Laurel to clean her apartment, so Laurel knows that Hanna has not been sleeping at home. Hanna claims she's out partying, but that's not really her personality. Laurel finds some flowers given to Hanna by someone named "T". Laurel also visits her elderly mom who had a stroke many years ago. Her mother Ruby is old, but seems to be holding on hoping for Ellie to be found.
They (uncharacteristically) plan a big family dinner. Laurel brings Floyd and Paul brings his partner, Bonny. It goes well. Chapters 23 - 26
Laurel finds an envelope addressed to Noelle Donnelly in Floyd's house. Floyd says she's Poppy's mom. Laurel remembers that Noelle was Ellie's math tutor. Hanna tells Laurel that Ellie thought Noelle was creepy and weird. Laurel goes through Ellie's journals which confirms it. Floyd acknowledges that she was a very cling fan of his books, which is why they got involved.
Jake's girlfriend, Blue, calls Laurel after the dinner. Blue says that she thinks Floyd is hiding something and that his aura is dark. Laurel is dismissive.
Laurel finds out SJ is seeing an older, married man. She advises SJ to end it, telling her about when she was younger and did the same thing. SJ expresses interest in Ellie's disappearance. SJ also tells Laurel that she caught a glimpse of Noelle a month before Poppy would've been born, and Noelle wasn't pregnant.
Part Three Chapters 27 - 35
(From Noelle's perspective, in the past) Noelle grew up with two older brothers, two younger brothers and a younger sister who died when she was eight. Noelle comes upon Floyd's book, and goes to a signing. It turns out they both live in the same neighborhood (Stroud Green), a few roads apart. They run into each other later, and eventually go to dinner at a Eritrean restaurant. They see each other for over a year. Noelle does not get along well with SJ.
Noelle gets pregnant but loses the baby. Around this time, she starts tutoring Ellie. She becomes obsessed with Ellie and her seemingly perfect life.
(From Laurel's perspective, in the present) Laurel calls an old number she has for Noelle. Joshua Donnelly answers. Noelle is his aunt, but no one has heard from her in a while. He's never even met her, even though he lives in her old house now. Joshua shows Laurel the basement, where there's a sofa, tv and a bunch of hamster cages where they found a bunch of dead hamsters. Laurel also finds a tube of lip balm that matches ones Ellie had.
Laurel takes Poppy to meet Joshua and see her old house. Poppy is hesitant, but then eager to meet her relatives. However, she refuses to enter the basement, saying she was told never to go down there. Her mom had told her there was a monster there.
The next day, Laurel sees Theo, Ellie's old boyfriend, with a woman. It's Hanna.
Part Four Chapters 36 - 49
(From Noelle's perspective, in the past) After Noelle kidnaps Ellie, she keeps her in the basement. She gives her the hamsters as pets. One day, she drugs her and soon Ellie realizes she's pregnant. Noelle pretends to Floyd that she's pregnant. However, a month before the baby is due, Floyd breaks it off anyway.
(From Laurel's perspective, in the present) Laurel calls Noelle's parents who report that they haven't seen her in decades. She was supposed to move and go live with them along with Poppy at one point, but it looks like she dropped off the baby with Floyd and disappeared instead.
Floyd tells her that Noelle was an atrocious parent and it's better that she's out of the picture. At Floyd's house, Laurel finds a set of candlesticks that had been stolen in the burglary (after Ellie left). Poppy says they were Noelle's.
(From Ellie's perspective, in the past) Around the time when Poppy is still a baby, Ellie passes away from Noelle's neglect. Noelle disposes of the body and dumps the remains. Chapters 50 - 57
(From Noelle's perspective, in the past) Floyd grows closer to Poppy, but Noelle feels him pulling away from her. She decides to move to live with her parents (along with Poppy) to make him chase her. Floyd figures out her plan, and wants her to give up Poppy. Noelle finally admits it's not his child (she purchased sperm to impregnate Ellie), but also that it wasn't hers either. Noelle tells him she doesn't want the baby and is about to leave, but he attacks Noelle.
(From Laurel's perspective, in the present) Laurel talks to Paul about Hanna and Theo, and he says he's known for months. Paul says Hanna is cold to Laurel because she knows Laurel always wished Ellie was the one who'd survived. Laurel calls Hanna to says she loves her.
Laurel goes into Floyd's study and sees that there's a bunch of newspaper cuttings about Ellie's disappearance from even before they met, around the time the Crimewatch
show aired. Laurel celebrates Christmas with Floyd and Poppy, but she feels something's wrong. Blue reiterates that she thinks Floyd is fake and hiding something. Floyd tells Laurel he has a surprise for her.
Part Five Chapters 58 - 65
Laurel finds a card where Floyd admits that there's something he's not telling her. He tells her to go to the study and watch a video he recorded. In the video, he confesses that he found out about Ellie on Crimewatch. He knew very quickly that Ellie's was Poppy's mother.
Floyd didn't go to the police because he was worried they'd suspect he was involved. He was afraid he's lose Poppy. He gets involved with Laurel on purpose to let her get to know Poppy, but is surprised when Laurel is attracted to him too. He admits that he murdered Noelle and buried her out back. He tells her she can have Poppy, and it's up to her if she goes to the police.
(Floyd's perspective) Floyd has left Poppy with Laurel and driven off. He shoots himself.
(Eight Months Later) Hanna and Theo get married. Laurel is taking care of Poppy.
A woman goes to the police. She's found a note hidden in a book she got from a used bookstore. The author of the note is Ellie. She writes about Noelle keeping her captive. She says she loves her family and for someone to find Poppy and tell her she loves her.
In the alternate ending, Ellie doesn't die, instead Floyd finds Ellie in the basement after he kills Noelle. He's scared of losing Poppy, so he keeps her alive in his basement. After he kills himself, Laurel and Ellie are reunited.
See Then She Was Gone