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The Return of Ellie Black by Emiko Jean


The Return of Ellie Black

by Emiko Jean

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Quick take

Missing girls and small-town secrets are not the only things hiding in the woods of this Pacific Northwest outpost.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Multiple_Viewpoints

    Multiple viewpoints

  • Illustrated icon, Feminist


  • Illustrated icon, Puzzle


  • Illustrated icon, Unsetteling



Detective Chelsey Calhoun’s life is turned upside down when she gets the call that Ellie Black, a girl who disappeared years earlier, has resurfaced in the woods of Washington state—but Ellie’s reappearance leaves Chelsey with more questions than answers.

It’s been twenty years since Detective Chelsey Calhoun’s sister vanished when they were teenagers, and ever since she’s been searching: for signs, for closure, for other missing girls. But happy endings are rare in Chelsey’s line of work.

Then a glimmer: local teenager Ellie Black, who disappeared without a trace two years earlier, has been found alive in the woods of Washington State.

But something is not right with Ellie. She won’t say where she’s been, or who she’s protecting, and it’s up to Chelsey to find the answers. She needs to get to the bottom of what happened to Ellie: for herself, and for the memory of her sister, but mostly for the next girl who could be taken—and who, unlike Ellie, might never return.

Content warning

This book contains scenes that depict sexual assault.

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of The Return of Ellie Black.

The Return of Ellie Black


This is how it begins:

With a girl running through a forest, her veins tight with adrenaline. She exhales in short, even bursts. There is dirt under her fingernails, fresh mud stains on her jeans, blood on her sweatshirt, and vomit on her breath.


Soon she will be home.

Images surface. The one stoplight on Main Street. The chipped green shutters of her house. The weathered flooring of her father’s commercial fishing boat.

In the distance, a horn blares and she ducks, covering her ears, the sound slicing through her skull like an anguished scream. The world shrinks and becomes abstract, too colorful and too bright. The horn recedes and the trees slowly refocus.

She counts her breaths as her heartbeat steadies. One. Two. Three. Then she counts her steps. Four. Five. Six. How many will it take for someone to find her? Seven. Eight. Nine. Her bones are heavy, her feet tired. She has traveled a long distance. Her shadow stretches ahead of her, as if she’s chasing it—come and catch me. Ten. Eleven. Twelve. Her body wavers. Maybe she should sit down. Thirteen. Fourteen. Fifteen. She pushes herself to keep going. The sun rises higher behind the gray clouds. The air smells of pine and resin. Like water and moss. Like life itself.

“Hey! Are you all right?” A pair of hikers—father and son—appear, rounding the corner of the trail. They wear overstuffed backpacks, rolled sleeping bags at the top, a pot hanging from the bottom of one, two metal cups from the other. The girl slows her pace and draws closer to them.

Sixteen. Seventeen. Eighteen.

The father places an arm across his son’s chest to shield him from the girl, and she falters, caught in the chokehold of their gazes. The son’s eyes are brown with tiny flecks of gold, and they remind her of someone she used to know. Her mind tumbles and trips back in time.

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Why I love it

Small-town mysteries have been having a moment recently, and I’ve read a lot of them. I know the standard plot beat by beat: the familiar local characters—at turns charming and untrustworthy, of course—and the dark underbelly overtaking this otherwise quaint location. But The Return of Ellie Black upended all my preconceived notions with a story that is as morally complex as it is entertaining.

Two years after disappearing without a trace, a young woman named Ellie Black miraculously reappears, seemingly unscathed. But she won’t talk about where she’s been. Detective Chelsey Calhoun is working the case and immediately notices a connection between Ellie’s circumstances and her sister’s, who disappeared decades before after a heart-wrenching accident that left the whole town stunned. The more she digs into these similarities, the more Chelsey finds herself getting lost in her own grief, and the more she fears for the lives of the women around her.

The Return of Ellie Black is incredibly atmospheric, fully entrenched in the dark woods of Washington state and the somber outlook of a town struck by tragedy. Chelsey is one of my favorite characters in recent memory, a wholly unique narrator—an outsider in a homogenous small town who can see with clarity what others can’t. This mystery novel asks big questions about who holds power, and what they’re willing to do to maintain it, layered over a heart-pounding narrative that kept me turning the pages. It’s everything you could ask for: spooky, thoughtful, and unforgettable.

Member ratings (11,578)

  • Kristy D.

    Nanaimo, BC

    I loooved this! It was heartbreaking with the perfect mix of mystery and suspense. A FMC that you don’t quite trust but want to route for! Read it in one sitting. Highly recommend ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Mathea C.

    Vancouver, WA

    ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ A quick read that will keep you on the edge of your seat! I couldn't put it down. It was much more than I expected. If you're looking for a mystery that keeps you guessing, give this one a try.

  • Heather E.

    Albion , NY

    This is def not my regular genre, but I couldn’t stop thinking about this book when I was away from it. If I can’t focus on work because I’m thinking about characters and what happens next, it’s good!

  • Suzanne L.

    Watertown, NY

    SO FREAKING GOOD! I was hooked from page 1! I’ve stayed up late 2 nights in a row to finish it. So many twists and turns. And I’m a sucker for multi view point. It’s not for those with weak stomachs.

  • Djamiah G.

    Auburn, WA

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ I read the ARC in January and LOVED IT! This has been my favorite thriller all year. The perspectives are amazing and the twist is jaw dropping. I absolutely loved this book.

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