Sandra Block’s sophomore novel revisits psychiatrist Zoe Goldman–the protagonist from Little Black Lies. This new novel, The Girl Without a Name, is a fast-paced, intelligent thriller that tackles themes from mental illness to racism. I recently had the opportunity to talk to Sandra about her new novel, how her career impacts her writing and what it’s like writing a character with ADHD.
Can you tell us a little bit about The Girl Without a Name?
The Girl Without a Name is a psychological thriller featuring Zoe Goldman, a psychiatrist-in-training. Her newest patient is a young African-American girl found wandering the streets in a catatonic state. No one knows who this “Jane Doe” is (or seems to care) and the police are fresh out of leads. It’s up to Zoe’s team to figure out her identity and quick, because somebody out there wants to make sure she never remembers.
For those who may not have read Little Black Lies what should they know (or what do they need to know) going in?
Happily, you don’t have to read them in order. In The Girl Without a Name, I tried to provide teasers for Little Black Lies without giving up the big spoiler. But, to catch us up a bit, Zoe Goldman is a psychiatry resident struggling with her own psychiatric issues, including ADHD. In Little Black Lies, she was trying to find out the truth about her birth mother while dealing with her adoptive mother’s decline into dementia, her insensitive long-distance boyfriend, and her troubled relationship with a sociopathic patient.
What makes it different from other mystery novels out there?
Well, we have a Jewish protagonist with ADHD, which is a bit different, not to mention her unlikely friendship with an African-American teenager. People also comment on the dark humor of Zoe’s voice, which makes the series stand out.
You are a Harvard grad and a practicing neurologist. What impact has your background and career had on your writing?
I always wanted to be a writer. But in the end, doctoring gave me something to write about. It introduced me to a world of intrigue–not one of presidents and spies, but of the hospital ward, where patients and doctors battle with illness and death, but also find healing and humanity.
In the novel, Dr. Zoe Goldman struggles to find out the identity of her young African-American patient. She is forced to go beyond the police investigation and post the girl’s picture on a website called “Black and Missing”. Did you know you wanted to write about how missing girls of color are often give less media and police attention? Or was it something that came up as you went?
I think it was an unconscious decision. Jane Doe was African-American, that’s just how she came to me. I saw her clearly in the hospital bed before I started writing. And with that came the bald truth of how the media treats missing or murdered people of color as lesser, somehow not as interesting or important. Like Black Lives don’t matter as much. Hopefully, Jane can help bring this issue to light.
Another thing Zoe struggles with throughout the novel is her own mental illness. What are some of the biggest challenges to writing a character suffering from ADHD?
Making her disorder ring true without being too heavy-handed. In Little Black Lies, a few readers commented, “okay, I get it, she has ADHD.” On one hand, that’s valid, you have to trust readers and not barrage them with themes. On the other hand, her disorder is deeply ingrained in her thoughts and actions, and she does ruminate over it quite a lot. I did my best to strike the right balance.
Will we see more of Zoe Goldman in the future?
I hope so! I am working on Zoe #3 right now, and let’s just say that some villainous characters return…stay tuned!
Check out The Girl With No Name, out now from Grand Central Publishing.