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They Never Came Back

Module 8 – Mystery/Series/SLIS 5420


Cooney, Caroline B. (2010). They Never Came Back. New York: Delacorte Press.


Cathy is commuting to another school in Greenwich, CT to take intensive Latin in summer school.  One day in the lunchroom, a boy notices her and thinks she is his long lost cousin.  The students are galvanized by his certainty and they mystery of what happened to his cousin, Murielle.  Tommy swears that Cathy is Murielle, his cousin that got left behind when his aunt and uncle fled the country to avoid going to trial for embezzling from their brokerage firm clients.  Students are searching the internet for clues and gossiping about the case.  Cooney’s matter of fact writing style facilitates a story told by two girls – Cathy and Murielle – who just might be the same person.  The book explores what makes a family a family and the complexity of relationships between children and their loved ones who don’t always act as they should.  Fast-paced, emotionally astute, and suspenseful – a great read for middle school and high school levels.  This book kept me turning the pages, but it also made me cry.


“Although described by its publisher as a thriller, THEY NEVER CAME BACK is more of a mystery. Thrillers might imply murder and violence, none of which is present here. This book is about grappling with family matters, figuring out what really happened with Murielle and what, if anything, Cathy has to do with her. It ends in a way that lets it complete itself, but is also open enough for possible sequels.

Caroline B. Cooney has been writing young adult books for decades and has remained a popular author whose novels grab one’s attention. THEY NEVER CAME BACK is no exception. Fans of her earlier titles in all likelihood will grab this one as well, and even “reluctant readers” are often known to get into her stories. So what will happen to Cathy, Murielle and the Lymans in the end? As they say in Latin, fiat justitia ruat caelum: ‘let justice be done though the heavens fall.'”

Davidson, Danica. (2010). Review of They Never Came Back.  Retrieved from


They Never Came Back is a well-written thriller/mystery that could be used for a mystery reading section (SSR) or for a book report list.  Assigning several books by one author (such as Cooney) to a group of students for a mystery book project would be a good way to encourage discussion and comparison of elements (clues, plot twists, dialogue) and to teach about writing.


About mary's summer bookshelf

I'm studying to be a librarian at the University of North Texas and loving it. This blog is a class project and the first one I've ever written. The world of children's literature is diverse and rich. This class is opening up many worlds for me to traverse - I am a total YA fan now.

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