When I was asked to review The Girls Are Gone, I have to admit I had never heard of the Rucki case. I know, I know, you are wondering if I have been living under a rock or something. How could I not know about this mind-bending case? Well, like everyone else I guess, I am busy and there are only so many hours in the day. Anyways, I wanted to let you know this is the first coverage of the Rucki case I have ever read even though there are plenty of other books and articles out there, so you can have some context as to my background (or lack thereof) on the case.
First, here is a brief overview of the Rucki disappearance. Samantha and Gianna Rucki vanished from Lakeville, Minnesota on April 19, 2013. Their disappearance occurred in the midst of a custody battle over five children, a custody battle that stemmed from Sandra Grazzini-Rucki and David Rucki’s bitter divorce. Sandra violated a court order and took her daughters. David spent 944 days searching for Samantha and Gianna. On July 28, 2016, Sandra was found guilty on six counts of deprivation of parental rights. Three other people were also convicted for their involvement in the Rucki sisters’ disappearance.
The authors of The Girls Are Gone, Michael Brodkorb and Allison Mann, met in 2016, and unlike me they are experts on the case. Michael, a journalist, extensively covered the Rucki sisters’ disappearance for the Twin Cities media. Since then, he has started the Missing in Minnesota website, which offers continuing coverage of the Rucki case. Allison Mann is a paralegal, and she works at the law firm that represented David. She now assists Michael with the Missing in Minnesota project.
The format of this book is different from most other true crime books I have ever read. As an aside, even if you are not like me and on the cusp of needing glasses, you will likely find the font noticeably small and hard to read. Be sure to have a good reading light or find a comfy chair near a big, bright window. Perhaps if you order the e-book you can adjust the font size to help lessen the chance of an eyestrain headache.
I missed having a Table of Contents or an Index, but I liked how the authors used the number of days the Rucki sisters had been missing as mini-headings throughout to provide context. I also appreciated the one-word section titles with their dictionary definitions (e.g. “Gone: adjective, lost”). These were powerful descriptors that enabled the authors to say a lot with one word. I am a language nerd through and through, so this kind of gimmick is always sure to catch my eye. Finally, although I wish the photographs included at the back of the book were better dispersed throughout, they still manage to give faces to the names and to add a personal element to the story that helps draw you in.
As I mentioned above, I am new to the Rucki case. Even so, I think this book leaves many crucial questions unanswered. Why does Sandra want a divorce? What went so wrong in her marriage? Why try to gain custody of her children? What finally compelled her to upend her life and forever change the trajectory of her children’s lives? Given who the authors are and their involvement in the case, it is understandable why they are on “Team David” from the very beginning. Even though this is also the team I would most likely be a member of, and the side the law supports, I would have appreciated a more measured and thoughtful examination of Sandra’s experiences and motivations.
A broad approach to how the case was covered in the media would have been a useful starting point to present other points of view. Instead, every article included in the book is from newspaper articles Brodkorb had previously published. And where is the list of sources the authors used in their research? Without this kind of support, you are left taking the authors at their word. Yes, Brodkorb and Mann’s bias is hard to overlook, but there is still much to be gained if the reader approaches the book knowing they are getting tremendous detail of only one side of the story.
I love many things about The Girls Are Gone. The authors make extensive use of court manuscripts, which I really appreciated, even though it might not be for everyone. I have read court transcripts before in their entirety, and let me tell you they can be pretty dull. However, Brodkorb and Mann manage to expertly weave the manuscripts into their storytelling, adding to rather than taking away from the story. The in-depth interviews with family members, especially with Samantha and Gianna Rucki, are also quite powerful and add texture and a much-needed personal element to the story. Importantly, this book shines a crucial light on the family court system in Minnesota. This behind-the-scenes look left me fully aware that something must be done to better protect children; the Rucki children, I believe, are the true victims in this case.
Ultimately, I recommend The Girls Are Gone to both casual true crime readers and expert armchair detectives. There is something in it for everyone, whether you are new to the Rucki case or have been following it for years. If you give it a read (or have already done so), please share your thoughts below!
Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.