Sunday, May 17, 2015

Review: Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

(I know the picture looks a bit grainy, but it is actually the cover design, not the photo)

It seems to have become a bit of a tradition of mine to start out every summer with the new Lauren Oliver novel. She has fantastic publishing timing, as she always seems to have a new book coming out right around the time the semester is ending. I have yet to read a book of hers that I did not enjoy, and Vanishing Girls was no different.

Vanishing Girls is similar to E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars (which is absolutely mandatory reading for anyone who has not read it, by the way) in that it is hard to describe to someone without giving anything away. To summarize as best I can, sisters Nick and Dara were inseparable until Dara started dating Nick’s best friend Parker and, more importantly, until they were in an accident that left Dara scarred. Now Nick is determined to spend the summer winning back Dara, who refuses to speak to her, and getting her life back to the way it used to be. Her plans go awry, however, when Dara vanishes the night of her birthday. Nick is convinced that Dara’s disappearance is connected to the recent disappearance of nine year old Elizabeth Snow, and she is determined to get her sister home safely.

I really loved how realistic the characters in this book are. Sometimes you are really sympathetic towards one character, and the next chapter you just want to shake them asking what is wrong with them. Dara in particular I had a love hate relationship with through much of the book, but the more I read the more sympathetic towards her I became.

I also really love how the story was told. Personally, I am a huge fan of books that use an unreliable narrator to tell the story. I read enough that I have worked out the typical plot lines and narratives often used, so I often know exactly how a book is going to end long before I reach the final page. Unreliable narrators make this much more difficult, as a narrator who can’t remember key events, who is biased towards events, or who is less than mentally stable can only give you so much information, and even then you never know if that information is true or not. In this book we are given not one, but two, unreliable narrators, as the chapters jump back and forth between the perspective of both sisters: Nick, who does not remember much about the accident that changed everything, and Dara, who, as a result of being so angry with Nick, offers a rather biased view of their relationship and of the events told from her perspective. This is the aspect of the book that really made it for me. It is not an easy narrative tool to use, but it is used brilliantly in this novel to guarantee you suspense and mild confusion right up until the end.

I actually reached a point where I thought I had worked out the explanation and I was honestly really disappointed. It seemed like such a simplistic, anti-climactic resolution to so suspenseful a novel. As it turned out, my assumptions were exactly what Oliver wanted me to be thinking, and there turned out to be a great deal more to the ending than what I had figured out on my own; the complete explanation blew my mind a little bit. I was really grateful to say the least. There is nothing worse than a fantastic story with a boring ending, am I right? It is also a testament to how much control Oliver maintains throughout the story; she is able to manipulate the reader's assumptions to create even greater suspense and surprise around the ending.

Books like this one demand to be re-read. The first reading is for the suspense and the excitement of not knowing what is really going on. The second reading is for picking up all the little details and clues that you missed the first time. Right after finishing the book I started flipping back to certain scenes to re-read them, as they have completely new meaning once you’ve finished the book. I have every intention of re-reading the whole book so I can enjoy every single “ooohh” moment the second reading undoubtedly has to offer me.

In short, I would recommend Vanishing Girls to anyone looking for a suspenseful read with undertones of mystery on every page. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did! If you’ve read it already, tell me what you thought in the comments!

I would also like to take this opportunity to recommend two of her previous books, Panic and Before I Fall. I loved both of them, and I feel like Before I Fall in particular gets shadowed a bit by her hugely successful Delirium Series (which I actually have not read yet; it’s on my list). Let me know if you’ve read these as well, and what you thought of them if you have.

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