Module 9 — Mystery

Torn to Pieces by Margot McDonnell

Module 9 — Mystery


McDonnell, M.  (2008).  Torn to Pieces.  New York, NY: Delacorte


Anne, this mystery’s seventeen-year-old narrator, is accustomed to an unorthodox homelife, but she is left at a loss when her vaguely employed frequent-flyer mother leaves a strangely worded and deeply mysterious goodbye letter (of sorts).  Anne soon finds that she knows almost nothing about her mom’s daily existence and that she and her grandparents can have no expectation of learning where Anne’s mother is or what she is doing.  Bizarre events linked somehow to Anne’s mother’s business (or criminal) connections begin to pile up, and Anne, who begins strained relationships with two boys who have issues of their own, attempts to make sense of a world where no assumption goes untested and no predicted outcome holds more than a small amount of certainty.

My Impressions

This book is unlike any I’ve ever read.  The first-person narration is simultaneously descriptive, secretive, and strangely tangential, much like the bizarre letter Anne receives from her amazingly uncommunicative mother, who was at least once employed as a writer and claims to care about and/or love her daughter.  The bizarre events and seemingly free-associating narration combine to create a uniquely compelling novel that never ceases to amaze.

Torn to Pieces features audaciously bold stylings and its plot and characters are wildly unpredictable.  After an initial period of frustration and bafflement, I was bowled over by McDonnel’s unique stylings and free-flowing narrative.  The term “novel” fails to describe Torn to Pieces.  I’ll describe it instead as a dramatic epistolary epic prose tone poem–with a twist.  A must!


Campbell, H. M. (2009, Jan. 1). [Review of the book Torn to pieces]. School Library Journal, 55, 110.

Gr 8–11— Anne, 17, is used to her eccentric mother’s comings and goings; after all, the woman is a biographer who must travel to interview the subjects of her books. Anne is used to her mother pulling up roots and moving the two of them and her grandparents to a new town. She is definitely used to having few friends and fewer boyfriends. All that changes when two new boys show an unusual interest in her. A phone message from her mother leads her to thousands of dollars stashed inside a hollowed-out book, and then her mother doesn’t return from one of her trips. When Anne calls the woman’s cell, the number has been disconnected, and there is no record of her at the hotel where she was supposedly staying. As the teen begins to unravel the mystery of her mother’s identity, she discovers that all she has ever known has been a fabrication. Fast-paced and exciting, this book is a perfect choice for fans of Caroline Cooney’s “The Face on the Milk Carton” series (Random). The complicated plot takes a little deciphering to figure out, but persistent readers will be rewarded for their efforts. Anne is an articulate and intelligent heroine, and readers will identify with her sense of social isolation as they live vicariously through her courage and tenacity.

Booth, H. (2008, Nov. 1). [Review of the book Torn to pieces]. Booklist, 105, 36.

Gr. 8-11 Anne has never really liked the fact that her mother travels so much for work, but she gets by, thanks to her nearby grandparents, and enjoys the benefits of her mom’s ample salary. Besides, her mom always makes it back for the important things. But when her mother misses Anne’s birthday and her cell phone gets disconnected, Anne starts to worry, and with good reason. Soon, the life she thought she had is crumbling in front of her eyes and she is sucked into a world of long-held secrets, government agencies, double crosses, and dangerous men. Anne’s mom’s shocking past has caught up with her, and Anne discovers that no one in her life is who she thought they were. Readers may want to be aware that as she investigates the complex deception her mother has constructed, Anne encounters violence on several occasions, including a disturbing scene of attempted rape and potential incest. This teen thriller is slow to start but builds to a gripping conclusion with a final twist that will shock and satisfy teen readers.

Using in the Library

In Torn to Pieces the protagonist is involved in several hunts for information, money, or other resources.  Send students on a treasure hunt, using clues to find library resources in print.  (The library catalog may be used to locate print resources.)  For example, “I am organized in volumes by the letters of the alphabet.  I provide information for basic research and fundamental knowledge.  Use me to find information about the FBI (agents of the FBI appear several times in Torn).  What resource am I?  In addition, what is the name of the main FBI headquarters and in what city is it located?  What is the significance of this name?”  Send students on the scavenger hunt and discuss the results when you reconvene.  Students can use multiple sources with the goal of identifying several ways to find the information in various print resources.


About Boyd Waltman

Boyd Waltman is a film editor in Houston, Texas.
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