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Book Review

Missing Isaac by Valerie Fraser Luesse has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Pete McLean was a young boy when his father fell in a sinkhole and died. His father’s friend and employee, a black man named Isaac, became his father figure. This was an unusual friendship for Alabama in the early 1960s. When Isaac goes missing one night, his relatives fear he was gambling and got himself in trouble. Pete vows to find out what happened to his friend, no matter how long it takes.

Missing Isaac tells the story of Pete and members of his family and community through the next several years. Pete lives with his mother, Lila, and comes from a wealthy family. His grandfather, Daddy (Ned) Ballard owns a lot of land in the area.

One day in the hollow, Pete meets a girl about his age named Dovey. Her family members keep to themselves and are often labeled strange by the townspeople. Dovey’s grandmother, Miss Paul, is the matriarch of the clan. She has a knack for divining the weather and foreseeing other happenings. Dovey’s father, John, has been emotionally distant since Dovey’s mother died.

Pete and Dovey are immediately inseparable. They rely on Isaac’s relatives to help them communicate with each other until their families discover their friendship. Dovey is just 13 when the adults in their lives discuss the relationship and allow the kids to spend time together. Pete is always respectful and works for Dovey’s family to show his devotion. Dovey has rarely been out of the hollow but begins attending First Baptist Church with Pete each Sunday.

As their relationship blooms, Daddy Ballard continues to work secretly with the FBI to learn what happened to Isaac. When he receives new bits and pieces of information, he shares them with Pete. Pete’s mother, Lila, and Dovey’s father, John, develop a friendship. Lila helps John market the furniture he makes, and they eventually open a shop. The kids sense their relationship is becoming deeper than a friendship.

A bully named Judd mocks Pete about his backwoods girlfriend and later tears up Dovey’s family’s crops with his father’s truck. Daddy Ballard learns a local waitress witnessed the hit-and-run that killed Isaac years earlier. Isaac was run down by Judd’s mother and her lover. They hid Isaac’s body in a cave on Dovey’s family’s property so Judd’s father wouldn’t find out.

A local sheriff botches the investigation and locks up John for the murder. John is distraught by the embarrassment he is causing his family, and he pushes Lila away. When the true criminals are finally behind bars, John and Lila make up.

Pete finishes his high school education early and marries Dovey immediately. Isaac always loved reading, so the newlyweds honor his memory by building a town library where people of every color will be welcome.

Christian Beliefs

Pete’s family members are active in their First Baptist Church, and Dovey starts going faithfully with Pete. Church people attend potlucks and hymn sings, sometime with brothers and sisters of other denominations. The pastors of the various churches rib each other good naturedly, and the church women swoop in to help anyone in need. Many hymn lyrics appear in the text.

Other Belief Systems

Isaac believes in luck and carries a rabbit’s foot. He gives it to Pete after his father dies. Miss Paul has a knack for divining the weather and foreseeing other happenings.

Authority Roles

Lila raises her son to be a gentleman. She helps Dovey learn about aspects of womanhood and homemaking. John realizes he needs to be more attentive to his daughter. He is watchful over her relationship with Pete and teaches the young man woodworking skills. Daddy Ballard is generous with his money and even funds college for his maid’s daughter. He stands against injustice and prejudice.




Dovey and Pete kiss a number of times, as do Lila and John. Miss Paul worries that the Devil will have his way in Dovey and Pete’s relationship and they will need to get married. She threatens to kill Pete and spare Dovey’s father the sin of murder and the fires of hell if Pete ever dishonors Dovey.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Gambling: Isaac sometimes gambled. His family feared he might have been killed when a poker game went bad.

Lying: Pete and Isaac sometimes lie to Lila about going fishing when they’re actually going to an African-American barbecue joint. Pete fibs to Isaac’s Aunt Babe about why he’s on their property, and she calls him a hell-bound liar. Later, Pete becomes meticulously honest so Dovey’s father will have no reason to distrust him.

Alcohol: People drink at the barbecue restaurant. Isaac’s family suspects the people he played poker with would have been drinking heavily. Judd and his friends drink beer Judd stole from his dad.

Racism: Several characters show intolerance and bigotry toward characters of other races or social classes.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

18 and up


Valerie Fraser Luesse






Record Label



Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group


On Video

Year Published





We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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