Justin Campbell was kidnapped four years before this book opens. Laura, his mother, and Eric, his father, have chosen different coping mechanisms that help them avoid the weight of his absence, at least often enough to give them the energy to be parents to Griff, Justin's little brother. Even so, the empty place in their home, and in their hearts, makes getting by an act of will. Johnston crafts this dreary, weighted existence with subtlety, and makes the reader an active voyeur.
When Griff is found and returned to his family, no longer an 11 year old child, but a strapping teenager, the family discovers that in the place of expected peace is a cloying sense of circling one another lest the re-balancing act in which they are engaging begins to fall to pieces.
Johnston doesn't overplay any of this, to a fault at times. As a mother, I identified, sometimes viscerally, with Laura, but the most poignant character in this novel is Griff. He's spent 4 years being the brother of the Boy Who Went Missing, which comes with a certain degree of celebrity. He's managed to begin carving out his own identity when Justin comes home, and he's now the brother of the Boy Who Came Home.
This wasn't a flawless novel, but it was a most thoughtful and thought-provoking one, in which the strength of a family, one depicted with great authenticity, is pushed to its limits.