The Girl Without a Name

by Sandra Block
Grand Central, September 2015, $14.99

The Girl Without a Name is Sandra Block’s second novel, and also the second to feature Dr. Zoe Goldman. Zoe is a resident in training on her pediatric psychiatry rotation at the Children’s Hospital of Buffalo in New York. It is a difficult rotation for Zoe because she finds working with mentally ill children depressing. Zoe has her own problems, too. She is still mourning the death of her mother and the breakup of her relationship with the beautiful, very French Jean Luc. Plus, she is on probation for flunking her RITE (residency in-service training examination) and with all the stress, her ADHD is even more difficult to manage.

The hospital routine is enlivened when the police bring in a catatonic African-American girl for admission. The girl is a mystery. She has no history and no name. The nurses call her Jane, as in Jane Doe, and Zoe takes a personal interest. She begins an amateur investigation, posting Jane’s photograph on a missing children’s website, creating a Facebook post, and convincing her brother to search the Internet with facial recognition software. Her only real clue is a small round scar on the girl’s ankle. She does all this and more to the growing annoyance of the detective assigned to the case and the girl’s attending physician.

The mystery is smoothly told and develops steadily. The main questions of who Jane is and the cause of her catatonia are buttressed by Zoe’s enthusiastic if, at times, erratic personality. She is flawed, self-doubting, and relentless.

The hospital descriptions have the ring of truth, and the patients with their myriad mental disorders are fascinating: an anorexic, a meth addict, a budding psychopath. The mystery is well disguised, and the outcome is uncertain until the final pages. A little luck is needed for Zoe to solve it, but the surprising and believable climax more than compensates.

Ben Boulden
Teri Duerr
September 2015
Grand Central