Giving it 3.5 stars; some good things here

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A speech therapist becomes the only hope for a teenager after his return from life off the grid. As she tries to find out what happened to his father, the therapist will face questions that have haunted her for years about her own past. Author Mindy Mejia follows last year’s successful release with another commendable thriller in Leave No Trace.

Maya Stark spends her days as an assistant language therapist and her nights renovating the bathroom in her home. She derives a deep satisfaction from both, despite the assertions of her psychiatrist that the only reason Maya can’t finish the renovation project is because she’s using it as an excuse to keep from meeting people. But Maya meets plenty of people at the psychiatric facility where she works. They may not communicate effectively—or at all, in some cases—but she thinks it should count for something.

No one can doubt her dedication to her job or her gift to draw out reluctant communicators, however, which is why she gets tapped to help the boy “returned from the dead.” Ten years earlier, Lucas Blackthorn and his father, Josiah, walked into the woods near their Minnesota home with camping gear. They disappeared without a trace, leaving law enforcement officials and civilians alike speculating they may have died. A decade later Lucas comes back and attempts to rob a camping store. He gets caught, struggles with police, and is sent to the facility where Maya works.

Lucas refuses to talk to anyone, but from the beginning everyone can see he’s drawn to Maya. She gets assigned the task of getting information from him. Lucas does everything he can to break out of the facility to return to him. Despite an initial violent encounter, Maya remains persistent. She makes painstaking efforts to gain Lucas’s trust one conversation at a time, and he finally reveals that Josiah is sick.

All Lucas wants is to go back to his father, a bond Maya can understand because of the deep relationship she shares with her own father. The two were always close but became even more so when Maya’s mother abandoned them both. Lucas, too, has lived through a similar experience, and Maya finds herself drawn to the boy not just as a professional but as a friend. The closer they get, however, the more Maya realizes she and Lucas may have more in common than she first thought.

Author Mindy Mejia comes back in full form with another great thriller. Maya’s well-rounded character will have readers rooting her on early in the book. Mejia also puts just enough distance between the readers and Lucas to make them distrust Lucas early on. Just as Maya labors to earn Lucas’s trust so will Lucas have to earn the trust sympathy of readers. It’s a tricky balance to strike, but Mejia gets it almost perfect.

Mejia sets this book, too, in her native Minnesota, and her deep knowledge of the state shows in the best of ways. She’s able to frame each scene in a three-dimensional way. Readers will get a full picture in their minds of the closed forests and the natural beauty of the state. They’ll also feel the brisk rub of the oncoming winter and smell the air of the forests.

The book relies a touch too much on serendipity to make the plot move forward, and many readers who work in settings similar to Maya’s may object to the development of her relationship with Lucas. She crosses a line, although she fights her conscience for it and Mejia makes that struggle clear. Maya’s indecision makes her seem more real, and her ultimate decision makes sense within the story world Mejia has constructed. It just may ring a little oddly for some readers.

Overall, however, the book is another terrific read from Mejia. Readers will find that Leave No Trace Borders on Bookmarking it!