Review | Rebecca McKanna’s debut novel ‘Don’t Forget the Girl’ puts thrilling twist on true crime 

Released on June 20, the book is McKanna’s debut novel. It provides an intimate view of friendship and love while being a fast-paced story that differs from the traditional thriller.


Contributed photo by Rebecca McKanna

Emma Gaughan , Arts Reporter

Whether or not you like true crime, it’s hard to avoid hearing about the latest podcast or limited series that highlights gruesome and horrible crimes. Iowa author Rebecca McKanna questions the idolization and fascination with these crimes — particularly the criminal who commits them — in her debut novel, “Don’t Forget the Girl.” 

“Don’t Forget the Girl” is a thrilling tale of friendship and loss that dives deep into the nuance of media representation as well as friendship. The novel follows the lives of three girls — one of whom went missing during their freshman year at the University of Iowa.  

The book is unique not just for the subject matter — telling the story of the victims, not the criminal — but also in how it is told. It follows the perspectives of three girls: Bree, Chelsea, and Abby. However, while Bree and Chelsea’s perspectives are told in third person, Abby’s is told in second, creating a deeply personal connection to the character. 

Even just reading the description, I already knew I was going to like this book. The lack of care and respect for victims when talking about true crime is something I have always found disturbing, and to see a book of this genre finally tell the victims’ stories was a refreshing and exciting discovery. 

RELATED: Ask the Author: Rebecca McKanna 

The book was an open and honest discussion of not just crime but friendship and growth. It was an unfiltered discussion of how grief can affect a person and how complicated friendships can get. As Bree and Chelsea try to understand what happened to their friend, they also have to grapple with their own struggles and secrets. I felt that these issues were handled respectfully and realistically in the book and added to the overall feeling of suspense as well as nostalgia. 

While this book had aspects that strayed away from the traditional thriller, it did stay true to one aspect: it was fast-paced, easy to get through, and there weren’t any scenes that felt unnecessary. Every scene added to the themes and plot. The 350-page book felt far quicker, and it was hard for me to put down. 

Being an open and honest depiction of love and friendship, there were often moments where characters made a choice or said something frustrating or that I disagreed with, but, overall, I felt a deep connection to each of the girls. McKanna depicts the pain and trauma that they have experienced in an insightful and understanding way, making the reader understand their reasoning. 

McKanna writes in a way that makes each moment personal and real for the reader, even when the characters are in situations that the reader cannot relate to. However, this novel also struck close to home for me due to the location being the UI. To read how the girls would spend afternoons on the Pentacrest or walk through the art district was something I could see myself doing, adding a unique and personal aspect to the book, as well as adding to the chilling feeling. 

For both true crime fans and those who dislike it, “Don’t Forget the Girl” is a thrilling and intimate look at love and grief and a thought-provoking read.