In Erin Kate Ryan's historical fiction mystery, she uses a fascinating story structure to explore different potential paths for interlinked young women in the Jim Crow South.
In Erin Kate Ryan's recently published historical fiction mystery Quantum Girl Theory, Mary Garrett focuses on finding missing girls, and she keeps her own past, her secrets, and her emotions about all of it penned up tightly.
When she arrives in the Jim Crow South to investigate a girl who has disappeared, she finds that two Black girls went missing as well, but local law enforcement hasn't put resources into finding them.
As Mary's search for all three girls intensifies, we find that Mary herself was a "missing girl," Paula Jean Welden, who vanished one night in 1946. Ryan explores various alternate histories and life tracks for Paula Jean while "Mary" digs more deeply into the circumstances surrounding the modern-day disappearances of the Southern girls.
The title and cover made me think "science fiction," but Quantum Girl Theory is rooted in historical fiction and offers a solid, twisty mystery as it moves through various fascinating potential realities that might have been. I wondered if the structure--which explores multiple girls' various possible lives and situations--would make this story feel disjointed, or if I'd be able to connect to the characters.
With the multiple girls at hand, I had to flip back a few times to make sure Ryan was writing about the character I thought she was writing about, but that definitely could have been a personal problem related to reading while tired.
Regardless, I was hooked on this book and fascinated by what felt like multiple genres in one story, with unexpectedly deep dives into Quantum Girl Theory's various characters. Mary was a captivating main protagonist--alternately desperate and hopeful, but always dogged in her search, even as it threatened to destroy her.
I received a prepublication digital galley of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group.
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