What Has Become of You by Jan Elizabeth Watson: Review

what has become of youVera has a new job as a substitute teacher for a “well-to-do college preparatory school” teaching a class called Autobiographical Writing: Personal Connections to teenaged girls. The first assignment is on The Catcher and the Rye. For the class, the girls must write journals connecting themselves to the actions of the characters in the novel.

Vera has bigger dreams of writing a book on her favorite topic: serial killers. She considers herself an amateur detective, and is fascinated with a recent murder case. For now, she must contend with reading and marking the girls’ journals. One girl in particular stands out from the rest: Jensen Willard. Jensen is a scholarship student, one of the most silent of the class, but her insights intrigue Vera.

When another murder is committed and Jensen’s journals become more and more disturbing, Vera wonders if something is not quite right with the girl.

When I first started reading What Has Become of You, I had to take a moment to ask myself, “Am I supposed to find Vera obnoxious?” because I did. She is one of  the most pretentious characters I’ve read in a long time. She’s smug and self-absorbed and yet somehow she’s soooooo stupid. She makes poor decisions, like being hungover her second day on the job. She's not some girl straight out of college, she's in her late thirties. She relates to the girls in her class because in a lot of ways she’s on their level. Actually, some of them are more sophisticated than she is. I could see from a mile away that she was being played. I had to wonder, what are you thinking, girl? Part of the problem is she wants to impress this teenaged girl, and it’s sad because it’s obvious she has a lonely life.

cool mom
Vera, if she was a mom. 

Vera does a host of questionable things. The kind of things that make you say aloud, “Don’t do that thing!” I didn’t understand her fascination with Jensen’s journal. I started calling them Letters from Eeyore. The journal contained the kind of stuff that would make a good teacher stop and call the cops. You don’t just let that stuff go. At one point Vera makes Inspector Clouseau look like Inspector Poirot, and I decided that the book had just gone farcical. It was like the reality of every cozy mystery ever written. Do not try this at home, kids; you are not a professional. Still, I kept reading because I wanted to know what was going to happen. Was Vera literally too stupid to live?


As for the writing, the third person was off putting. I couldn’t really get into Vera’s head. The beginning was somewhat slow, though the pacing of the last third of the novel improved. The ending was a satisfying conclusion for me. It’s a fairly standard thriller without many surprises. Part of the attraction for me was not figuring out who, but why. Why does Vera do the things she does when any sensible person would call the police? Will she ever learn? Why did the killer murder that person? What was the motivation? Will the killer be caught?

Thanks to Dutton Adult via NetGalley for the review copy.


  1. I loved the premise so I'm bummed that the book's not great.

    1. I did end up liking it but I thought it could have been better.

  2. Yeah, I agree with Bermudiaonion. The premise sounded awesome.

  3. As the author of this novel, I usually make it a point to not respond to customer or blogger reviews, but I must admit that some of the witticisms in yours made me chuckle! You raise some valid points about Vera's mindset and motivations, and if you are interested, you may find some further answers about her inexplicable behavior in this recent interview: http://www.jennifervido.com/blog/2014/05/interview-with-jan-elizabeth-watson.html

    1. Thanks for commenting! I will have to check out that interview. I was glad to see Vera changing at least a little by the end.


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