“This isn’t some tabloid story about serial killers. You live in a small town, and most of the people who were there that night still live here too, and there is a lot of pain from that time that never went away for any of us,” (Jones 121).
In August 1999, popular cheerleader Clarissa Campbell disappears from a bush party outside her rural town of Oreville, Washington. After that night Clarissa is never seen or heard from again, even after the police question her friends, family, teachers, and boyfriend. Because of her beauty the mystery of her disappearance takes hold of the country, with some true crime fans believing she may be hiding out somewhere or was maybe even abducted by Sasquatch. Even then there are no leads and no body, but twenty years later best friends Blair and Cameron are determined to solve the case. The two start a podcast for their journalism class and start conducting interviews of their own, stumbling upon dark secrets their small-town would rather keep buried, and people who will do anything to keep them hidden.
Missing Clarissa was a pretty good Young Adult read. I think Jones did an excellent job talking about the ethical issues with true crime podcasts in a way young readers would be able to understand. I think Cameron and Blair sounded like teens and I really enjoyed their relationship with each other, as well as most of the adults in the story, especially Cam’s mother Irene. I think there was some excellent paralleling done with Blair and Clarissa and I think Jones did a wonderful job writing this specifically for a teen audience, it’s one of the more authentic voices I’ve read for YA in a while. The culprit was a little obvious, but I’ve also read a lot from the genre and from a YA viewpoint I think it would be shocking.
That being said, it isn’t perfect. The ending is fairly weak, the podcast aspects were interesting but few, and some characters are much more difficult to like than others. I found Blair to be the strongest character, paralyzed with self-doubt which made her an incredibly relatable character. I felt so bad for her and just wanted her to succeed. It was wonderful to see how Jones developed her character throughout the novel. I absolutely hated Cam, an incredibly intelligent young woman who did so many infuriating things to continue to remain smart without thinking of anyone else. This flaw was brought up and talked about, which I appreciated, but it still made me really dislike this character. I also disliked Sophie, a side character who became a bit more prominent later on in the novel. Sophie is an abolitionist, and she brings up very valid points about the problems with the prison system and racial injustice against Indigenous people, but a lot of Sophie’s points just didn’t fit with this narrative. She just dumps information on social justice, whole paragraphs worth without it really being meaningful to the plot. There was a whole section where Cam and Blair take a pit stop at the Quileute reservation and make a point to mention the ways Twilight messed up the representation (which is valid) and how Indigenous people are higher victims of murder than white people (very valid, and actually relatable to the story). Here’s a quote from Sophie to get an idea of how she speaks:
“Marginalized People. Poor people, Native people, Black people, brown people, immigrants, queer and trans people. That’s who goes to prison, because that’s who the system is designed to hurt. If Dan Friley goes to prison, that’ll be an aberration. And jail doesn’t have anything to do with justice. There are better ways to address harm within a community. You’re obsessed with Clarissa’s story, the same way so many other people are. But you know who comprises the highest percentage of murder victims? Young Black men. Weaponizing stories of imperiled white women serves to enforce political repression. The prison industrial complex isn’t interested in protecting people from harm. It’s founded on the principle of harming people who are already vulnerable. All these dead white girl stories? All this fixation on sexualized violence against white women? Those narratives normalize structures of oppression that don’t do anything to prevent more violence from happening. That foster violence” (Jones 164).
This is an uncut quote from Sophie. And it’s A LOT.
I can’t even say teens wouldn’t speak like that because I’m on TikTok, I’ve seen Gen Z’s videos and they do have the language and intelligence to discuss these points, all of which are good points to bring up. But it just doesn’t fit with Missing Clarissa, the point about Indigenous people being victims of violence over white people definitely fits, but a lot of it doesn’t. It’s mentioned Sophie’s journalism project deals with how “local Native communities maintain their cultural traditions and indigenous knowledge across generations while navigating settler encroachments on their sovereignty”, (Jones 13) so these points are relevant to Sophie but not to the story as a whole. I just started to hate whenever she appeared in the story. And obviously prison abolishion is a very interesting point to bring up in relation to true crime, but the book was too short to successfully incorporate all these things into such few pages. And I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t relate to the idea that murderers shouldn’t be convicted and imprisoned. I know there are issues with the prison system but this point was a very difficult one for me to get behind, especially in a book focusing on true crime and justice. Maybe if Jones had worked harder on what justice actually means for unsolved cases and if can truly be achieved with imprisonment, but it never was.
Honestly, I’m more curious about who Ripley Jones is. They don’t have a website, their author description on Goodreads (and on the inside flap of Missing Clarissa) is simply “Ripley Jones is a person of interest,” and their author photo is just as mysterious. They have no other social media accounts. The book has a decent number of reviews on Goodreads it doesn’t seem to have reached “viral” territory so I haven’t seen anyone else questioning who Jones is. Maybe it’s a penname for another author who is using the name to exclusively write YA mysteries (their second novel is called The Other Lola coming out in 2024, no description or cover revealed for it yet), or maybe it’s a debut author just trying their hand at being the next Lemony Snicket. The only clue that might not be a clue is that I think their name is a reference to the Alien franchise: Ripley for the main character and Jones for the cat. But that’s all I’ve got.
Missing Clarissa is a decent YA mystery with relatable characters and bringing up the ethical issues of true crime to a younger audience. It isn’t perfect, but I’d definitely read more of Jones’ work in the future (and hopefully find out who they are).
Publication: March 7th 2023
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Pages: 256 pages (Hardcover)
Genre: Fiction, YA, Mystery/Thriller, Contemporary, LGBTQ+
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤
In August of 1999, dazzlingly popular cheerleader Clarissa Campbell disappears from a party in the woods outside the rural town of Oreville, Washington and is never seen again. The police question her friends, teachers, and the adults who knew her—who all have something to hide. And thanks to Clarissa’s beauty, the mystery captures the attention of the nation. But with no leads and no body, the case soon grows cold. Despite the efforts of internet sleuths and true-crime aficionados, Clarissa is never found—dead or alive.
Over twenty years later, Oreville high-school juniors and best friends Blair and Cameron start a true crime podcast, determined to unravel the story of what—or who—happened to this rural urban legend. In the process they uncover a nest of dirty small-town secrets, the sordid truth of Clarissa’s relationship with her charismatic boyfriend, and a high school art teacher turned small-town figurehead who had a very good reason for wanting Clarissa dead. Such a good reason, in fact, that they might have to make him the highlight of their next episode…
But does an ugly history with a missing girl make him guilty of murder? Or are two teenage girls about to destroy the life of an innocent man—and help the true killer walk free?