Review: “Nearly Gone,” Elle Cosimano’s Debut YA Mystery Novel

Duncan Hoag, Reporter

“Nearly Gone,” written by Elle Cosimano, is a debut young adult mystery novel, set here in the D.C. Metro/Northern Virginia area. In addition to creating a compelling story, Cosimano adds both math puzzles and science concepts into the novel, which help to create a multi-layered story that challenges as well as entertains. Some minor issues do detract from the story, but overall, the novel proves to be an excellent and exciting read.

As a mystery, the reader is easily drawn in, quickly getting a good idea of what is going on in the story. The plot, although multi-layered, is easy enough to follow and doesn’t become so complicated that it trips over itself, as many other YA novels tend to do. The plot twists are unexpected and do a good job actually advancing the plot, unlike many books whose events don’t push the plot forward, but instead keep it stagnant and therefore dull.

Many of the characters are morally ambiguous, which works to heighten the suspense even more. Perhaps most importantly, however, is that the book keeps you guessing until the end.

The overall diction of the book sometimes comes across as slightly dumbed down, which can be somewhat annoying for the reader. While this issue is not necessarily a dealbreaker, it does tend to detract from an otherwise decent novel. The dialogue tends to suffer from the same problem, albeit to a lesser degree.

The most problematic issue one might have is the semi-supernatural element Cosimano has woven into the story. This element is consistent throughout the book but doesn’t contributes to the plot or the characters as strongly as Cosimano might have intended. It almost seems as if Cosimano artificially inserted the supernatural element just to spice it up without necessarily entering it in the urban fantasy genre, such as the Twilight novels. Because of the element, the reader gets strong glimpses of what some characters are feeling and thinking, but it comes across more as Cosimano telling us the story, as opposed to showing us.

That being said, the plot itself is not dumbed down in the slightest, and Cosimano does a good job covering her bases and avoiding plot holes, which is an especially common pitfall mystery writers can sometimes fall into. Cosimano obviously did her research on the area in which the novel takes place, and it is almost a mirror image of West Potomac and the surrounding region. One minor but glaring issue, though: she has a teacher giving lessons using a chalkboard, where chalkboards have not been present in modern-day classrooms in well over a decade or more. Hopefully she will catch that in the novel’s sequel, expected next spring.

The romance is prominent enough to not seem pointless, but not so much that the book ceases to be a mystery novel entirely. Just like the plot, the romance element is not rushed, and Cosimano does a great job of finding the perfect balance between too fast and too slow.

In conclusion, Nearly Gone has its own set of problems which don’t necessarily make the book unreadable, but do detract from it somewhat. The most important elements, such as the plot and the characters, are done well enough, but other issues, such as problems with diction and an awkwardly inserted supernatural element that contribute nothing to the book, do detract somewhat.

You can read our interview with Cosimano here, during her recent March visit to WestPo as a stop on her book tour.