Everybody knows everybody in The Hollows, a quaint, charming town outside of New York City. It's a place where neighbors keep an eye on one another's kids, where people say hello in the grocery store, and where high school cliques and antics are never quite forgotten. As a child, Maggie found living under the microscope of small-town life stifling. But as a wife and mother, she has happily returned to The Hollows' insular embrace. As a psychologist, her knowledge of family histories provides powerful insights into her patients' lives. So when the girlfriend of her teenage son, Rick, disappears, Maggie Cooper's intuitive gift proves useful to the case—and also dangerous.
The investigation has her husband, Jones Cooper, the lead detective on the case, acting strangely. Rick, already a brooding teenager, becomes even more withdrawn. In a town where the past is always present, nobody is above suspicion, not even a son in the eyes of his father.
Determined to uncover the truth, Maggie pursues her own leads into Charlene's disappearance and exposes a long-buried town secret—one that could destroy everything she holds dear.
Enjoy this Reading Group Guide for your discussion.
When Jones Cooper was younger, he didn't believe in mistakes. He thought that every road led you somewhere and wherever you wound up, that's where you belonged. Regrets were for the shortsighted, for the small-minded. He didn't believe that anymore. That was a young man's arrogant way of looking at the world. And youth, among other things had abandoned him long ago...
Honors and Awards
- New York Times Bestseller
- USA Today Bestseller
- WalMart Book Club Pick
- Good Morning America Top Book Pick
- Parade Magazine Top Book Pick
- Target Emerging Author Book Pick
- Harper's Bazaar Hot Book Pick
Praise for Fragile
"Best-selling thriller author Lisa Unger takes a half-step away from her trademark high-tension pace to thoroughly explore small-town relationships in her latest effort... In this entertaining and extremely readable mystery, Unger is able to deliver a message, one that addresses every parent’s fear, without becoming preachy or didactic."
"Unger writes with incredible insight, free from the usual clichés and disappointing plot twists. Her narrative crackles with the intensity of summer lightening."
"Lisa Unger creates an edgy storyline told from alternating point of views. She captures the naiveté of small-town America and the inhabitants who are connected by a fine line of deception. Realistic characters struggle to maintain a strong bond that’s unraveling into fragile, broken pieces. Fragile: A Novel offers a psychological mystery of human frailty and makes you thankful for the security and love of a good family."
—San Francisco Book Review
"Unger delivers an intriguing, downright frightening thriller that will keep parents of teenagers up at night. Inspired in part by an actual event that happened when she was a teen, Unger takes readers on a twisty roller coaster ride of accusations and confessions in this well-developed tale. By tapping into the well of a parent’s psyche, Unger conveys a magnificently emotional story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the very last sentence."
—Las Vegas Review-Journal
"Unger keeps the energy level high as she skillfully looks at people striving to be good but fearing their dark side is winning and at the complexities of human nature... keeps the tension taut as she shows a microcosm of life in an insular town... keeps the reader off-kilter by tainting each character with equal parts of guilt and innocence. Although "Fragile" is populated by nearly an entire town of characters, Unger makes each distinctive."
"Unger skillfully builds suspense by alternating point of view from chapter to chapter... Too many thrillers rely on coincidence or outlandish twists to connect the dots in a crime investigation, but Unger makes that process organic by using the interconnectedness of her characters' lives over the decades — these people really do know each others' secrets. Even apparently unrelated threads — like the chapters about the exterminator called in to trap the raccoons in Elizabeth's attic — are cleverly woven into the plot. Unger is also adept at drawing believable characters and relationships. Much of the emotional weight and considerable tension of Fragile have to do with families, with how parents and their children relate (or don't) and how husbands and wives can think they know everything about each other — and then find themselves surprised."
—St. Petersburg Times
"This is a great thriller that makes you think twice, with thoughtful and relatable characters."
—Parkersburg News & Sentinel
"FRAGILE is a bit of a departure from her previous thriller novels, but it hasn't departed from Unger's complexity of plot and depth of character. There is a very rich psychological element to her ninth novel, forcing the characters' thoughts and emotions into the limelight more so than their actions. Unger depicts the small town in all its beauty as well as its warts and foibles. In some ways The Hollows is so small it's suffocating its residents, and in other ways it's so large that the ugly secret remains hidden for decades. That dichotomy is mirrored in the people inhabiting The Hollows as the past collides violently with the present. The haunting beauty of FRAGILE is enhanced by Unger's poetic imagery that weaves consistent images throughout the novel developing the idea that we're all tied into one another, affecting one another, connected. Those connections at once both fragile and strong. Once again, Lisa Unger has succeeded at crafting a gripping tale that will echo in your thoughts long after you've turned the final page."
"We get to know the characters well, and we find ourselves suspecting almost everyone. And with good cause; all of Unger's characters in Fragile are keeping secrets, some of them truly dangerous. The ending is gripping, almost painful to read. Unger knows lives can change in an instant, and one wrong decision can create a lifetime of pain not only for the person, but for anyone who loves them.""
—Fredericksburg Freelance Star
"If you're a fan of Jodi Picoult's family chronicle storytelling, you'll enjoy Fragile, too. It's set in a small affluent town outside New York, where everyone knows someone who kissed the pizza guy once and many have ugly memories and buried secrets. When a teenage girl goes missing, the lives of all who knew her unravel. Unger balances nicely the suspense of her missing person story (a layered one when the vanishing of another teenage girl 30 years earlier is connected) with deeper sentiments. How do you live in the present when the past has broken you?"
—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Best-selling author Lisa Unger has made her mark with a string of successful thrillers — Beautiful Lies, Black Out, and Die for You. While her new novel, Fragile, has a mystery (or three) and often unfurls with page-turning suspense, it also mines the more intimate territory of family and community dynamics, inspired by the disappearance and murder of one of Unger’s own schoolmates more than two decades ago... In the style of Jodi Picoult, Fragile tells its tale through the real-time action and freighted recollections of a diverse cast of characters living in fictional The Hollows, a small town 100 miles outside New York City with a reputation for quaint charm. In reality, The Hollows is rife with dysfunction, full of ugly memories and buried secrets."
"The never forgotten, complicated, and sometimes dangerous entanglements that can arise from growing up in a small town are compassionately and insightfully portrayed by this new suspense thriller from Unger. Perfectly balancing the need for independence from one's past and the indelible ties that persist regardless of any attempt otherwise, Unger creates a tale that's full of realistic characters that will remind readers of either someone they know, or perhaps even themselves. And filled with perfectly written passages that are worthy of being read twice also serve to make this read an intense journey that evokes a surprising amount of emotion. As does the beautifully written side-story involving the man (and his new love) who will eventually provide important clues in the case. Unger reminds us with a persistent grace that while the past is physically over, it remains a part of who we are. Poetic at times, heartbreaking at others, and suspenseful throughout, this is easily the best book of the year and comes with the strongest recommendation we have."
—New Mystery Reader
"Lisa Unger writes psychologically in-depth stories with great characters. The plot is fast-paced and has many twists."
"While Lisa Unger shows amazing skill at plot development, pacing, and projecting a rich sense of place, her talent in characterization - in plumbing the depths of her characters' inner circumstances - is truly exceptional... Though something of a departure from her recent thrillers, Lisa Unger's FRAGILE shines with her signature talent and generates plenty of suspense."
"Lisa Unger brings this little town alive with flourish, probing the tragedies and the victories of the citizens of The Hollows. Each character has a multi-layered complexity and his or her own dangerous flaw unseen in most novels. Unger, the bestselling author of BEAUTIFUL LIES, SLIVER OF TRUTH, BLACK OUT and DIE FOR YOU, has a rare talent for exploring the vast pallet of human emotions, and she wraps that talent around a highly intriguing story."
"This one is a stunner... Unger's genius is in plotting the story so that the reader never knows what's coming next... This is a read that will stay with you."
—New York Journal of Books
"Unger specializes in thrillers involving family life, and she steps back from her suspense roots this time to tell a slow, simmering, tragic tale. Fans of authors like Jodi Picoult will want to read this one in a nice comfortable chair."
"Using multiple points of view... Lisa Unger does a masterful job of depicting small town claustrophobia, dysfunctional family dynamics, and the dark secrets that haunt people... The prose is elegant, mesmerizing even... Highly suspenseful, Fragile is about more than a missing child. It's about weird twists of fate, life decisions, regrets and wondering how things might have been."
"Unger's taut and edgy tale stealthily plumbs the depths of desperation that grow more dangerous with the passage of time."
"Unger's contemporary thriller offers solid entertainment."
"A nail-biting, nuanced whodunit."
"Compelling and true-to-life characters... Highly recommended."
"Young adults will recognize Ricky’s relationship with his parents, especially his desire for independence warring with his need for approval. The greatest appeal, however, will be in the rising tension and dark atmosphere as all that is behind Charlene’s disappearance comes to light. Ultimately, this story is about choices and how the decisions of one individual can reverberate with unknown consequences in the lives of others. Fragile is a fine transition for teens ready to venture into adult mysteries."
—School Library Journal
"Fragile delivers everything that Lisa Unger's readers have come to expect—a thrilling story that affects complicated and nuanced people. But it's also a sensitive meditation on the very nature of family and community and the ties that bind us to one another."
—Laura Lippman, New York Times bestselling author ofI'd Know You Anywhere
"Several decades of small-town misdeeds come to light in Unger’s latest ... The Hollows is the kind of place where “your doctor was also your neighbor…the cop at your door had been the burnout always in trouble when you were in high school.” So when self-dramatizing Charlene Murray vanishes after a fight with her mother Melody, everyone uneasily remembers the disappearance two decades earlier of perfect student Sarah, who turned up dead in the woods. Most unnerved of all is local cop Jones Cooper; it’s clear from the novel’s opening that he was somehow involved in Sarah’s death. That may be why he’s willing to believe that his son Ricky, Charlene’s boyfriend, was the one who picked her up in a green car the night she left home. Jones’ lack of trust infuriates and bewilders wife Maggie, a psychiatrist who knows there are plenty of kids in The Hollows more troubled than mildly rebellious Ricky. First and foremost among them is Maggie’s patient Marshall Crosby, sinking into severe depression now that he’s returned to living with his abusive father. Travis Crosby has been bounced from the police force after his DUI conviction, but he’s still armed and dangerous, not least for his hold over Marshall, who is both deeply creepy and heartbreakingly vulnerable in Unger’s multidimensional portrait. All the other anxious, guilt-ridden characters are painted in equally perceptive shades of gray. For a while it seems the author has planted too many dark secrets in her plot—even Maggie’s elderly mother has something to hide—but gradually she pulls the narrative threads together in a rich tapestry of psychological wounds passed down through generations. The denouement is grim, but the final resolution of both missing girls’ cases offers hope for the future. In the novel’s most moving scene, Ricky offers his tormented father the understanding and acceptance Jones is shamed to realize he has never given his son. Cleverly plotted and emotionally engaging."