Most of my library visits recently seem to go a little like this:
Me: *walks into library*
Library: *has NEW teen books from late 2014/early 2015 that I actually want to read*
Me: *SNATCHES (against my better judgement)*
And that, folks, is how I ended up with Vanishing Girls two days ago, with no prior intention of reading it for a good while.
It’s just so pretty
Author: Lauren Oliver
Publisher: Harper teen
Genre vibe: Contemporary, realistic.
At a glance: For Nick and Dara, being sisters means more than just being family. But when a car accident estranges them, and Nick suffers memory loss and is sent to live with her father following her family’s collapse. But when she comes home, things start coming back, just as a young girl named Madeline goes missing.
A warning I don’t usually give: This blog post deals heavily with spoilers. A lot of the things I have to say about the book pertain directly to the hugest plot twist, so if you don’t want to have anything about the reading experience spoiled (and I suggest that you heed that advice) skip down to the overview, kay?
Now that that’s been said…
There’s a bit of a theme or trope that’s been going around in contemporary, lately. It’s what I like to call the “they’re-actually-dead:-the-MC-is-just-crazy” trope. So eloquent, I know. But that tells you exactly, doesn’t it? This trope was the case in Belzhar, We Were Liars, and to a point in The Vanishing Season, and I know I’ve come across a couple other synopses lately that display the same characteristics.
And honestly, it kind of ticks me off.
One of the main rules of fiction, one of the only rules that’s actually important, is that we’re not writing to dupe our readers. We’re not supposed to say “And then, it was all a dream,” because that jerks the proverbial rug out from under the people we’ve coerced into going on this journey with us and leaves them with a goose egg and a grudge against us. That’s not very nice, now is it?
Suspense is one thing, misleading a reader is one thing, confusing them deliberately is one thing. But lying to them about what’s real? Well honestly, that’s just kind of cruel.
So when this book took that turn, when we realized that Dara has been dead this whole time and Nick has adopted her psyche, I got mad. I loved Dara. I didn’t want to be confused. I didn’t want to have to fit Nick’s experiences into the places where Dara’s should have been.
But I kept reading, because I only had sixty or so pages left. And I’m really glad that I did.
Vanishing Girls does what We Were Liars didn’t and Belzhar definitely didn’t: It showed me what Nick had actually, physically been doing when she thought she was Dara. The reveal of her insanity was more like a reveal in a mystery novel than just the book screaming “PLOT TWIST!” and leaving me lost in the dark. The little clues that you think back to–her interaction with the police, a couple of conversations she had with people over the course of the book–show you how other people reacted to her quest to find her sister. It leaves it so that if you take the revelation and look back over the book, things fit together.
You don’t end up lost. You don’t end up hurting, or mad at Lauren Oliver for lying to you this whole time.
Instead you end up crying. Because heck, Dara is dead. That just about ripped my heart out. I ached for Nick, so badly, and for Parker, and for their parents and the whole entire situation. Instead of feeling upset for not actually having her this whole time, I felt the loss of her like a blow to the gut. It hurt. A lot.
And so what came next solidified my love for this book: Nick got better. In the other books I’ve read with this theme (note that I’m excepting Vanishing Season in all of these because it was a ghost story and kind of different along these lines, just to clarify.) we get left off pretty soon after the plot twist. And it looked like things were going to stay that way with this book. I mean, I only had a few pages left. What could Oliver possibly do to save me?
I don’t know how she did what she did, but she fixed everything.
Over the course of the book, I fell in love with Parker. Parker is a Super Mega Ridiculously Real person that leaped off of every page he inhabited and wormed his endearing little way into your heart. And then in those last few pages, I basically sold him my soul.
Nick and Parker both did something not a lot of characters in this situation ever do (on screen, that is): they worked it out. They spent time apart. Nick got better. Parker did things. Then he left a red flag in the tree, and Nick answered. And they fixed things. He accepted her. They hurt together for Dara. Then they shared that perfect little kiss.
“I’m not sure what we are now. But…it’s good.”
We have time. That’s what Parker said to me last night before I went home, taking my face in his hands, planting a single kiss, lightly, on my lips. We have time to figure this out.
That was real. That was genuine. That was intimate and close and spoke to all their years of friendship, and I loved it. I’d loved them together the whole time, and I couldn’t have been given any better closure to their relationship.
Which brings me to my last point in this rambling stream of love: Lauren Oliver’s characters stole my heart. I didn’t really attach myself to any of them like I normally do with characters I adore, but instead watching them I hurt for them, and I loved them from the outside. Scared and messed-up and horribly, brokenly human. I fell for them all. I loved watching their lives. Even down to the most background of characters (namely: Aunt Jackie) they jumped out in front of me like real people.
There’s not much I love more than that.
- Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars
- Recommended to: People who seriously love good characters, but aren’t afraid of the dark. This book gets real and I had a hard time with it at some points.
- Lasting impression: Imperceptibly shaky fingers, half of a face in a blurry photograph. Hot, clear summer nights, and that one perfect kiss.