I expected this to be funny and charming, but it wasn't quite enough of either and was downright tedious at times. I kept wishing Betty MacDonald hadI expected this to be funny and charming, but it wasn't quite enough of either and was downright tedious at times. I kept wishing Betty MacDonald had been the author instead....more
It's sometimes the mundane parts of life that turn out, unexpectedly, to be the most terrifying.
With "Gone Girl," Gillian Flynn exposed the dark, uncertain elements that exist in all romantic partnerships, even those that don't end in murder. In Lauren Oliver's "Vanishing Girls," it's a relationship between two sisters at the crux, with 17-year-old Nicole — "Nick" — hurt and then increasingly fearful as her charismatic sister, Dara, 11 months younger, follows her appetite for risk to more and more places that Nick can't reach.
The book's nonlinear plot — alternating between "After" and "Before" — hinges on a car accident that left Dara scarred and withdrawn and Nick, the driver that night, consumed by guilt and anger. Dara refuses to speak or interact with Nick and then disappears without warning, and her secrets threaten to destroy more than their relationship when a 9-year-old girl goes missing and Nick's efforts to understand her sister's actions reveal that the two lost girls may be dangerously linked.
The push-and-pull tensions of Nick and Dara's mutual regard and resentment will be recognizable to those who've gone through life with a close sibling — someone who's you but not you; a soul mate and yet a stranger; a rival whose defining qualities are both coveted and disdained. For Nick, Dara is someone who lights up a room but leaves little space for anyone else, least of all quiet Nick. At the same time, Dara begrudges Nick her role as the "good" daughter, able to sail effortlessly through life with the favor of all — most gratingly their mutual best friend, boy-next-door Parker.
Though Parker is the source of much of the girls' drama, he's one of the weaker aspects of the book, his important role in their life explained via memories — Nick seemingly can't look at a tree or a gum wrapper without it reminding her of Dara and Parker as they were at ages 5, 9 or 13 — and his basic character spelled out in the slogans on his T-shirts. It's reminiscent of old-fashioned romances where two brothers vie for the attentions of a featureless woman, and while it might be good for feminism, it's bad for this book. Far more interesting is Nick's summertime job working at the town's amusement park, though the subplot — with enough charm and quirky characters to fill a Sarah Dessen novel — is slightly out of place here, working too well to ease the tension for both Nick and readers looking for a fast-paced thriller.
But in that vein, the book does contain a fairly major twist. And even if readers see that coming, there's still a — fairly dark — mystery to be solved.
"Vanishing Girls" is Oliver's third standalone novel for young adults and her 10th published book in five years. The New York City author's debut, "Before I Fall," was another high-concept novel, a dark take on "Groundhog Day" in which a cruel high-school queen bee dies in a car accident and is doomed to live her last day on Earth again and again. Though neither book's plot is particularly original, Oliver's deft descriptions elevate what could've been a soapy story or by-the-numbers thriller into something more resonant and able to cross genre boundaries.
And that seems to be Oliver's M.O. Also the author of a best-selling teen dystopian trilogy, books for middle-grade readers and a ghostly family drama for adults, Oliver says she hopes the YA publishers will abandon their chase for the next big "craze" and instead move toward a richer, more varied landscape of books. ...more
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