By Lauren Oliver
Available now from HarperCollins
Nick and Dara are sisters. Dara is younger, prettier, and likes to party. Nick is older, more buttoned up. But they were still the best of friends until things started getting between them, especially the ways they reacted to their parents' acrimonious divorce and Dara's relationship with the boy next door (and Nick's best friend) Parker.
And then, of course, there was the accident. The accident that Nick can't remember, and has led to Dara avoiding her.
VANISHING GIRLS has a slow start. It moves back and forth in time, through direct narration and diary entries, as well as snippets of news blogs. It can be disorienting (which is quite on purpose, as the climax of the novel proves). I want to reread VANISHING GIRLS knowing the ending so that I can spot the pieces moving into place, but it didn't entirely grab me at first.
The central mystery brews in the background for a long time. The biggest news story in the town is the disappearance of Madeline Snow. Dara and Nick pay about as much attention to it as you would to any big news story, when the pieces start to fall together and Madeline's disappearance turns out to be very pertinent to their lives. VANISHING GIRLS best trick is hiding the true mystery from the reader until secrets start bursting forth. It's a terrific use of point of view.
I expect that Lauren Oliver's fans will be thrilled with VANISHING GIRLS. It's a clever, feminist mystery with a central sister relationship that feels wrenchingly real. As her author's note says, she's really exploring the way siblings can define themselves in opposition to each other in order to carve out their own space. I think she succeeded.
While the beginning is a bit rough, I'm glad I kept reading. Once Dara disappears, the story kicks into full gear and the revelations just keep coming. The surprisingly bittersweet ending was quite satisfying, and as I said, tempted me to start right back over and see what more I would notice the second time around.
Lauren Oliver will be speaking and signing at Blue Willow Bookshop tonight.