on March 10th 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Depression & Mental Illness, Drugs, Alcohol, Substance Abuse, Siblings, Thriller, Young Adult
Pages: 368 •Format: Hardcover •Source: Library
New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver delivers a gripping story about two sisters inexorably altered by a terrible accident. Dara and Nick used to be inseparable, but that was before the accident that left Dara's beautiful face scarred and the two sisters totally estranged. When Dara vanishes on her birthday, Nick thinks Dara is just playing around. But another girl, nine-year-old Madeline Snow, has vanished, too, and Nick becomes increasingly convinced that the two disappearances are linked. Now Nick has to find her sister, before it's too late. In this edgy and compelling novel, Lauren Oliver creates a world of intrigue, loss, and suspicion as two sisters search to find themselves, and each other.
“That’s what life is, pretty much: full of holes and tangles and ways to get stuck. Uncomfortable and itchy. A present you never asked for, never wanted, never chose. A present you’re supposed to be excited to wear, day after day, even when you’d rather stay in bed and do nothing.”
Vanishing Girls is the novel that made me appreciate Lauren Oliver’s writing. Varying between lyrical and dark, Oliver’s prose sets a tone for the novel that’s much like the book’s cover: slightly mysterious, but more disturbing the deeper you go. Tackling tougher topics and darker twists than I’ve found in a lot of YA mystery/thrillers (with the exception of Abigail Haas), I have a new appreciation for Oliver as she laid out careful clues and wrote each scene with such intent. While the book didn’t completely grip me as I was hoping, there’s no denying that Lauren Oliver can craft a good story.
The book’s premise led me to believe I’d be reading a book about two mysteries that intertwine, and that it’d be a whodunnit sort of story. While there are two disappearances in the book, they felt like secondary plot points. The main plot was the tension and relationship between sisters Nick and Dara and their family. The book varies between their point of views, although both girls are very biased and clearly unreliable narrators (I love unreliable narrators, so no complaints about that here). The book didn’t really take on that mystery/thriller feel until the last third, and I was bored at the beginning because I was expecting it to be a thriller through and through, but a lot of it was setting up Dara and Nick’s relationship and their world, like a normal contemporary. Which is fine, but again, not what I was expecting/wanting when picking up the book. The book also has a slight dossier type feel, as the narrative is broken up with diary entries, newspaper/online news articles, photos, etc. I was surprised by this aspect of the book but really enjoyed it.
The story also had a darker feel to me than most YA. There’s a dark, seedy underbelly to the otherwise historic, suburban area that Dara and Nick grew up in and some of the twists were disturbing but also shed light on how young girls can be exploited, which is important. There was also a lot of heavier topics hinted at, specifically with the situations Dara often got herself into involving alcohol, drugs, and general substance abuse. I’m glad that Oliver didn’t shy away from these darker topics that can definitely fester in even the areas that seem the most benign.
The backdrop of this book was also surprising, but fit the subtly sinister undertones of the book. Nick ends up with a summer job at an amusement park that’s seemingly gone to seed, but holds a lot of nostalgia and history for the local community. At first I thought the run-down amusement park setting would be a bit cliché, but some of the imagery it conjured fit really well with the books, such as the broken down rides that haunted the park with memories of past tragedies. I could easily picture the park serving as an ominous and dusty backdrop with a mystery festering there.
I’ll admit I was a teeny bit spoiled going into this book because I happened to glimpse the copyright page when opening it (you know, where at the bottom it classifies the book according to subject). Although I wish I had gone in blind, I think I still would have guessed the twist. About 40% of the way through it hit me what the twist was and how it was going to end and the nature of Dara and Nicole’s relationship, and once I had my theory I was able to pick up tons of clues. While I didn’t love the explanation for the whole mystery I thought it was pulled off well for what it was. View Spoiler »It’s still pretty debated within the psychology field as to whether Multiple Personality Disorder is a thing, and fugue states are pretty convenient and overused tropes in tv/literature. I mean, it’s mighty convenient for your character to run around and do things with no memory the next day if the book is a mystery. « Hide Spoiler
Overall: Vanishing Girls is written with pretty prose with eerie undertones, but it wasn’t the thriller I was expecting it to be. Much more about sibling and family relationships than it was a mystery, I wish it had focused more on the disappearances of the girls and the process of finding them. While the twist may be predictable to the keen reader or one who has read a lot of thrillers, it’s fun to see how everything comes together once you realize what’s going on, and all of the nuanced clues that Oliver wove into the story. If you’re looking for more of a contemporary novel about sibling/family relationships with a hint of a mystery, this is a good book for you. I’m glad I picked this up because it made me appreciate Oliver’s prose style and while I won’t be rereading this one, I’ll definitely be giving her other works a try.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- Goodreads Challenge