[Review] The Gaps by Leanne Hall

What does it mean to be the one left behind?

When sixteen-year-old Yin Mitchell is abducted, the news reverberates through the whole Year Ten class at Balmoral Ladies College. As the hours tick by, the girls know the chance of Yin being found alive is becoming smaller and smaller.

Police suspect the abduction is the work of a serial offender, with none in the community safe from suspicion. Everyone is affected by Yin’s disappearance — even scholarship student Chloe, who usually stays out of Balmoral drama, is drawn into the maelstrom. And when she begins to form an uneasy alliance with the queen of Year Ten, Natalia, things get even more complicated.

Looking over their shoulders at every turn, Chloe and Natalia must come together to cope with their fear and grief as best they can. A tribute to friendship in all its guises, The Gaps is a moving examination of vulnerability and strength, safety and danger, and the particular uncertainty of being a young woman in the world.

Genre(s): YA, Contemporary, Mystery
Published by Text Publishing Company on March 2, 2021
[ add it on Goodreads ]

➤ Representation (click to show)

biracial Singaporean-/Anglo-Australian MC [Chloe], Chinese-Australian major character [Yin], diverse secondary & minor characters (Chinese, WLW, hard-of-hearing, depression, and more)

➤ Content warnings (click to show)

classism, racism, racial profiling, xenophobia, microaggressions, bullying, sexual harassment, catcalling, mentions of rape, (affectionate/joking) slut-shaming, mentions of/implied underage sex, underage drinking, mentions of drug use, mentions of eating disorders, grief, guilt

I received a review copy of this book through Netgalley; all opinions are my own and honest.

Honestly I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked this one up, but I’m glad I gave The Gaps a chance. Hall does a great job with the premise, which is tricky since it centers on a girl’s abduction but is not about her: it’s about other girls, left behind and not sure whether they are — or will ever again feel — safe. 

In a nutshell, Hall really does seem to understand (and fairly accurately depict) what it’s like to be a 21st century teenage girl, unfiltered and honest and unashamed. The two protagonists, Natalia and Chloe, have really distinct narrative voices and ways of thinking about the world and other people; I liked the structure of giving them each long sections before trading off (rather than strictly alternating chapters), helping the reader get to know them both. Though Natalia’s binary righteous attitude can admittedly be a bit much, you have to admire her wholeheartedness — and I was relieved that she didn’t turn out to be the archetypical Mean Girl But Not Really. On the other hand, Chloe is more traditionally likable, with her love of her little brother and her dog, just doing her best to figure out when to speak out and when to let things go. 

Just as Chloe is a girl-next-door type of protagonist, there’s a bit of a story-next-door feel. Family and friendship are major themes, portrayed with wonderful nuance and complexity, and without annoying moralizing or implied take-home messages. The narrative grapples with social issues like classism, racism, sexism, and rape culture, and it clearly condemns bigotry without crossing the line into being preachy; similarly, the Asian (Australian) rep is more incidental than central, though it comes up in both big and little details, and there’s lots of casual/ background diversity as well

The art aspect particularly impressed me, since it could so easily become a vehicle for cheesy figurative language and symbolism, moments written to be quoted, lengthy and tedious descriptions. Instead we get a much more pragmatic and relatable depiction of expectations vs. reality, the difficulty of translating abstract ideas into concrete depictions open to others’ interpretation and judgment. 

Although there is an element of suspense underpinning the narrative, the focus is mostly introspective and interpersonal (far more character- than plot-driven). It can be as thought-provoking as you want it to be, or appreciated at face value. Overall this was a super engaging and evocative novel — one that I hope more people will pick up, because I think it will appeal to a broad audience. 

4.5 stars

Conversion: 11.8 / 15 = 4.5 stars

Rating Details

Prose: 7 / 10
Characters & Relationships: 9 / 10
Emotional Impact: 8 / 10
Development/Flow: 8 / 10
Setting: 7 / 10

Diversity & Social Themes: 5 / 5
Originality/Trope Execution:
3 / 5

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