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The Sweet Relief of Missing Children

2.92  ·  Rating details ·  733 Ratings  ·  193 Reviews
In New York City, a girl called Leonora vanishes without a trace. Years earlier and miles upstate, Goldie, a wild, negligent mother, searches for a man to help raise her precocious son, Paul, who later discovers that the only way to save his soul is to run away. As the narrative moves back and forth in time, we find deeper interconnections between these stories and growing ...more
Hardcover, 363 pages
Published February 28th 2011 by W. W. Norton Company (first published December 27th 2010)
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Leigh Hecking
Feb 17, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2011
I received this book as part of Good Reads "First Reads" contest. The title and cover were intriguing and I was immediately drawn into the writing. I will say this for Sarah Braunstein - she is a great writer. There were some really clever, fresh metaphors in the book, as well as wonderful imagery. No doubt, the author's raw talent was harnessed by her professors at the coveted University of Iowa's writing program. But what is great language without content? Yes, she is a good writer, but whethe ...more
Dec 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
In this discomforting debut book, every character – and there are many – is guilty of the crime of passivity. It starts with the disappearance of a 12-year-old girl, Leonora – a good girl, who does everything right, a cautious and obedient young lady who possesses “calm confidence, concern for the lower classes, a dimple in her right cheek.”

Yet this is not a book about Leonora, who inhabits a small fraction of the 360+ pages. Rather, it’s about all kinds of “missing” children – children who have
Sara Cat
Jul 09, 2011 rated it did not like it
I automatically give one star as a base to books I had to put down. This is one of those annoying books with every chapter introducing a new character, with a lot of emotional carrying-on, and no plot, but hints that all is interconnected somehow. It might just be me, but I am quickly annoyed at those books that revolve around too much inner life, unless they are really spectacular. After about the sixth character chapter, with no connection to anything, I quit. The writing is nice, hopefully Br ...more
Jun 01, 2011 rated it did not like it
Okay so this book illustrates what I hate about the random new arrival shelf. I actually got about 1/3 of the way through this and I only picked it up yesterday. But, like so many contemporary books, the idea is fascinating, the writing hooks the reader, and in this book the style and plot are intriguing. However, I just can't finish this because after about 1/3 of it I had as much vulgarity as I could handle. Is this author representing a majority of the population out there? She has many chara ...more
May 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
The Sweet Relief of Missing Children begins with the story of Leonora. She is pretty and tidy and protected. She has her vaccinations, she knows not to talk to strangers, she eats her vegetables and she never takes the shortcut through the alley. She is precious to her parents and she understands these precautions because she understands that she cannot be both precious and free. In the end, none of it matters.

Sarah Braunstein’s novel begins and ends with Leonora, but woven throughout the book a
Apr 02, 2011 rated it liked it
This is another one of those books that is actually a bunch of interconnected short stories. On the positive side, the writing here is quite good, and the way the author fits the pieces together is masterful.

I actually thought this was going to be a mystery about a missing child. And there is indeed a missing child, but this is more a conceptual book about being "lost." There are many (too many) characters, and they each have their own way of being or feeling missing. This was interesting, but
Mar 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
I'm between "liked" and "really liked" on this one, mainly because it's just so bleak and depressing, and I'm dealing with a sad situation in real life right it was a little bit of work to finish the book, as nothing ever got better for any of the characters. BUT: Braunstein's writing is superb - she chooses just the right details and nuances, fresh ways of looking at familiar life scenarios, and that's what I kept coming back for. Here's an excerpt:

"It was a damp Tuesday in May. They w
Feb 18, 2011 rated it it was ok
I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads - my first hardcover win, and I love everything about the cover.... except the title. I find the title of the book a bit off-putting, although I suppose it makes a person think and wonder as to its exact meaning, which may interest someone enough to pick it up and start reading.

There are many characters in the book, and for a while it is very disjointed. Many of the characters' stories start to overlap, and author Sarah Braunstein does
Dec 10, 2012 rated it did not like it
This book was written in a cold detached style, which rendered the multitude of characters rather weak and listless. I often like the style of storytelling in which several different story lines are presented independently and eventually integrated together in cathartic unity. The author aimed for this style, but several of her characters were superfluous and inessential to the narrative. Fairly early on, I became overwhelmed by the ever increasing quantity of listless characters, all of whom we ...more
Kari Koehler
Mar 21, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: not-finished
This is a book that I won from the giveaways page here on GR. I am excited to begin this book this morning... will let you know what I think!

What I think - not very far into the book - the intro was compelling and made me want to read more - now I am confused because it flips back and forth and I hate the character Goldie, so much so that I am contemplating putting the book down!

UPDATE *3/31/2011* Still trying to get through this book. I almost have to force myself to read it. The characters ar
Feb 18, 2011 rated it liked it
I received this book in the Goodreads First Reads program.
This is a mystery that spans several decades, following characters that figure in the final chapter.
The prose is beautiful.
Some of the characters are slightly interesting in that they are different from myself and I always enjoy reading alternate experiences other than my own; but ultimately they are unsympathetic. Doesn't anyone practice birth control? The plot is uninspiring. There is no solution to the mystery, hence the reduced scor
Colleen Turner
I reviewed this book for

In a time when it seems to happen all too often, the abduction of a child makes us all collectively cringe, it makes us want to ask “why?” knowing there is no good answer. But what about all the other ways a child can go missing? What about the runaways, the lost, the discarded or the child suppressed inside each adult that stays hidden from view but never completely dissipates? The Sweet Relief of Missing Children explores all of these issues, and m
Blake Fraina
Jul 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
With The Sweet Relief of Missing Children Sarah Braunstein concocts a deeply odd yet profoundly affecting novel that is tenuously centered around Leonora, a privileged young girl who goes missing in Manhattan. I use the term "tenuously centered" because the stories of the book’s other characters swirl and eddy loosely around Leonora’s fate; almost none of them actually know her and some of them don’t even know about her.

The characters are all so specific and finely drawn that it was a pleasure
Feb 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
Sad, forlorn, convoluted, disjointed … these are just some of the adjectives that describe the characters in this book. It’s a revealing tale of human misery … of how dysfunctional lives provide children with no hope or pleasure to call their own.

This is a heart-rending novel of young people who find it necessary to run for their lives, to exist elsewhere in a time and place where they expect to escape the reality that is their families. A parallel is drawn between real and self-imposed abductio
Jul 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: stonecoast, fiction
How to review a book like this? The language of this novel is beautiful. The story is dark, unsettling, touching, at times almost surreal, and I found it to be gripping in its own quiet, forceful way. Looking back, I can see where some of the less favorable reviews are coming from, but I personally disagree with their interpretations. This isn't a traditional novel. There isn't one protagonist at the center of the story. There isn't one storyline. However, the stories are linked and they ultimat ...more
Feb 18, 2011 rated it it was ok
I won a copy of this book on Goodreads First Reads.

This story starts with the disappearance of 12-year-old Leonora – a good girl, who does everything right, a cautious and obedient young lady who has been warned about stranger danger. But it doesn't matter, she disappears anyway.
But this is not a book about Leonora, whose story is only one small part of the novel. Rather, it's about all kinds of "missing" children-–children who have grown up, those who have gone missing emotionally or physically
Mar 06, 2011 added it
I'm having a hard time getting through this one. I want to believe there will be some redeeming quality to the work if I just stick with it. I like the concept of daring us to look at the realities of life. Braunstein writes in such a way that you feel the emotion and will drained out of you, putting you in the shoes of her characters who cling to the barest threads of hope. It's an effective technique, BUT it's tiring. I haven't the energy left to deal with the constant barrage of new character ...more
Feb 11, 2011 rated it liked it
Five stories going back and forth through time.....ending, or focusing, on the disappearance of 12-year old Leonora Coulter...deemed a "good" girl by her family and friends...a girl who got caught in a 'twist of fate"

Five sets of characters who interact with each other in unexpected ways throughout the book.

Awkward, damaged people going through life with enough "baggage" to down an airplane.

Small town life...the flip side of Bucolic

The awkward style of this book bothered, and distracted, me...un
Feb 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
I received this book from Good Reads' "first reads" giveaway program.

This story really grips you from the first page and doesn't let go, even at the end. It's not a "mystery" at all, but the writing is suspenseful and you want to keep reading to find out what happens.

The best way to describe this book is to refer to the phrase on the back cover which explains the characters and story in a way that the characters are like broken pieces of glass from a shattered object that can never be pieced ba
Apr 17, 2012 rated it liked it
1/29/11 - This one is hard to review. I wanted to like it. The cover is intriguing. The book description is intriguing. The writing itself -- the structure & beauty of the words -- is quite good. But the overall structure & attempt to understand this book just put me off. The writing style reminded me a bit of Nicole Krauss -- beautiful, almost poetic writing, with a lot of unwritten & underlying meaning behind the words -- but it lacked so much as well. I had trouble keeping track o ...more
Angie McCrae
Jan 26, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, 2011
An intriguing story. In some regards it was well written, but in others it was difficult to follow. It did not seem to have a main character, but instead many secondary characters who lived in both the past and the present. The book is written in short vignettes that jump back and forth between each character and make the story feel disjointed. In fact, so disjointed that it was not until I was almost finished with the book that I realized the characters were in different time periods and not al ...more
Aug 17, 2012 rated it it was ok
Sarah Braunstein accrued a noteworthy honor in the literary world when she was selected by National Book Award finalists as one of the five best fiction writers under the age of 35. The Sweet Relief of Missing Children is her debut novel.

I thought this would be compelling book given her credentials; however, it was oddly confusing. There are numerous characters and time lines that I found difficult to keep straight. A flow chart would have been helpful in sorting out the backgrounds of the paren
Jun 27, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Despite the strange title (the librarian even commented on it as I was checking it out) this is beautifully written book. The language is worthy consolation for the often dark and sad subject matter.

The stories of the various people in the novel are, at times, intricate and compelling, but, as so often in contemporary fiction, the story drags and stalls over some of the darkest scenes which didn't seem to add much to the narrative (maybe contemporary authors feel they have to put in ugly things
Oct 29, 2012 rated it it was ok
This writer can create some beautiful word pictures, she can even compose sentences that have the power to break the reader's heart.

But, I have to give this book a low rating because it was so disjointed and had plot lines that just meandered off somewhere, never to be found again the big mystery in the book is never fully solved which always irritates me.

There were so many characters and their story would just be getting interesting and it would abruptly end and another chapter with yet other c
Apr 12, 2013 rated it it was ok
Though I am giving this 2 stars, I really did enjoy Braunstein's sense of observation, detailed, keen and humorous. She's also very good at the interior monologue. But this novel doesn't hang together very well. There's so much jumping back and forth through time, as well as from character and story to another character and another story, that I felt disjointed and confused through most of it. It was only the last 2 parts that I felt were strong and started to tie things together.... but overall ...more
Feb 03, 2011 rated it liked it
I have heard everyone raving about this awesome book so I decided to give it a shot. And I have to say it's a decent book, this book is really a bunch of interconnected short stories. It takes a bit of reading to start figuring out how all the characters fit together, but once you do, it's easy to keep track of.

Based on the title, I thought this was going to be a mystery about a missing child. There is a missing child, but it's more a story about how we get "lost" and give up ourselves and our
Feb 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book has some of the most intimate, brilliant character studies I have ever read. Compulsively readable, words used that take you straight into the moment.

Part of the reason it's so readable is that it feels like you're building to something great. Intertwined stories and characters, time backwards and forwards. So, fair warning. This book is an example of the journey mattering much more than the destination. Answers, explanations, they never come. And a few would have been really apprecia
T. Coughlin
Jul 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
I just finished this novel and what I liked most about it was the writing. I thought the author took care with her sentences and prose weaving her stories together. I can't say that sometimes the novel wasn't a bit confusing, as I tried to keep all the missing children straight in my head, but I will say, word for word, sentence for sentence this was a beautiful novel.

Goldie was my favorite character, very tragic, as most of the characters are in this novel. I recommend this novel to someone wh
E.D. Martin
Aug 08, 2012 rated it it was ok
First off, the writing in here was great. The prose flowed well, with an evocative rhythm that gave you insights into the many characters' thoughts and personalities. It portrayed their hopes and disappointments well.

That said, I didn't quite understand this book. The stories of the characters were interesting, but they weren't really woven together as well as I'd hoped. For example, we learned all about Constance, the aunt of Sam, who married Judith, who slept with Paul after a brief encounter
Feb 18, 2011 rated it liked it
I'm still deciding if I really like the book or annoyed by it. What I like about it is the raw look at being passive and not doing anything. We are all told that children can be anyone and everyone. But, in real life, usually nothing happens. Children grow up. We all become adults with pedestrian lives. Many don't become astronauts, doctors, or Indian chiefs. We all go through our lives passively.

However, I'm annoyed by the transition between characters and time. I devoted too much of my intelle
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Sarah Braunstein is a recipient of the Rona Jaffe Writers' Award. She received an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and an MSW from Smith College School for Social Work.

Based in Portland, Maine, she is at work on a second novel and a book of nonfiction about suburban adolescence.
More about Sarah Braunstein...