People go missing every day. Many of us follow the news and talk about the cases with our peers. But when it’s a child, there’s a sort of global unity about it. If you look at all the famous cases where children went missing—some found alive, others found dead, and others never found at all—there’s this shared outrage. We all want to believe that children are exempt from the world’s cruelty. Children haven’t done anything wrong. Children should be protected. Only a monster would harm a child.
Nell, my protagonist, feels this way too. She’s a teenage foster kid herself when she gives birth to her daughter. With all the uncertainties of motherhood, the only expectation she has is that she’ll love her daughter. Love is an instinct. Nell loves her own parents, even though they abandoned her. She loves her sister, while admitting that her sister isn’t exactly a moral person. So loving her new baby should be easy.
Only, it isn’t.
Nell is nearly killed by the traumatic and complicated birth. In the weeks to follow, she’s sleepless and ill because her daughter won’t nurse and won’t stop screaming. It only gets harder from there. Her dreams and mental state deteriorate. She begins to suspect that her infant daughter hates her.
Nell’s daughter grows into an intelligent toddler with a sweet face. But she has a mean streak that Nell herself doesn’t have words to describe. She often thinks of leaving her daughter to be raised by the child’s wealthy grandparents, but something tethers her. She wants to believe that her precarious relationship with her daughter is all in her imagination. Nobody believes her when she tries to say otherwise.
More than a decade later, Nell is a successful adult. She’s a true crime writer with a rare compassion for the cases she profiles. It’s a talent that has left her with enough wealth to mask her traumatic upbringing. She lives in a penthouse with an adoring boyfriend. She doesn’t talk about her daughter.
But as Nell begins to interview an especially challenging new topic for her next book, her past comes back to haunt her. Nell’s name isn’t really Nell. And a decade earlier, living in a different part of the US, she was the most infamous woman in America. Her toddler daughter had gone missing, and she was suspect number one. But the prosecution’s case wasn’t strong enough and she was acquitted of all charges, free to change her name and start over someplace else.
Nell was able to disappear, even as commenters on Internet message boards called for her head.
And now, someone out there knows who Nell really is. Someone knows what she’s accused of. They’re leaving grim clues for her to find. But is Nell actually guilty? What really happened the day her daughter went missing? Does Nell even know what happened herself? As a character, Nell isn’t a symbol for the mothers of missing children. In a lot of ways, she’s a symbol for us out here in the audience. She looks back at her own life and choices with a critical, if detached, eye for the truth.
My idea for THE BROKEN ONES began with all the stories I hear about on the news. But this isn’t a story about a little girl who goes missing. It isn’t about innocence being broken by something evil.
This is the story behind the scenes of what you see on the news. So many cases go unsolved. We won’t get a time machine to take us back to the moment a child disappeared, so that we can see what happened and who’s to blame. What we believe happened, however strongly, is still just conjecture. We won’t even get a confession when criminals are found guilty in many cases. But THE BROKEN ONES is that time machine. It shows you everything. It tells you everyone’s story.
The Broken Ones by Ren Richards Published by Viper Books
She didn't know if she loved her baby... but did she kill her? A bestselling true crime writer, Nell tells other people's stories. But there is one story she won't tell. Ten years ago, she was a teenage mother with a four-year-old she found desperately hard to love. Then the little girl disappeared. As Nell begins to interview the subject of her next book, a woman convicted of murdering her twin sister, it becomes clear that someone has uncovered her true identity. And they know that Nell didn't tell the truth about the day her daughter vanished...