Welcome to another Thoughts On book review. You’ll see these pop up on my blog whenever I’ve found a book I just can’t put down.
I hate feeling stupid.
Except when I’ve just finished a good book.
Then, I absolutely love it.
At the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference this past June I had the privilege of hearing Jon McGoran talk about the secrets of captivating your audience with a good mystery and thriller novel. Basically, he said you want to give the readers all the clues they need without actually letting them figuring out the ending before you reveal it to them. That’s truly what makes a good thriller last. At the end you don’t want your readers saying, “I knew it” but, “I should have known it.”
And this couldn’t be more true. As readers we don’t just relish the feeling of being duped, we crave it. “Of course that’s the answer,” we say, slapping ourselves on the forehead. “How did I not see it?” And it’s these profuse moments of a-ha! in Vanishing Girls that make me love Lauren Oliver even more than I did before.
The plot of Vanishing Girls follows Nick, a child of divorced parents, as she moves back in with her mother and her little sister, Dara, four months after causing the car crash that put Dara In the hospital. Nick hopes to repair her relationship with Dara but ends up taking a summer job at Fantasy Land, a local outdated amusement park, in order to distract herself from the fact that her little sister is doing a damn good job of pretending that Nick doesn’t exist. Dara clearly wants nothing to do with her.
Now, if you’re coming from the world of high stakes mystery and thriller like the Alex Cross series, you may find the story of a teen’s summer job pretty boring. You might think the first day of work events would have you yawning and skimming ahead to find pages of action in the upcoming chapters. You might even think you could predict the ending of this story.
But you would be wrong, my friend.
With Vanishing Girls, Lauren Oliver kicks down the door and storms into the world of psychological thriller with a dramatic twist no one saw coming.
No matter how hard Nick tries to catch her younger sister, Dara evades her. She creaks the floorboards upstairs but escapes just before Nick can get to her door. She shimmies down the window trellis and races off into the woods, leaving behind nothing but a flash of dark hair. Nick tries leaving notes and sending texts, but nothing works.
Until, in one moment of thrilling realization, Nick finally discovers the truth.
It wasn’t Dara upstairs in that bedroom making the floorboards creak with her footsteps. It wasn’t Dara’s dark hair that Nick saw in a flash outside of her bedroom window. It wasn’t Dara living with her in that house at all.
Because all this time Dara has been dead. And Nick has been crazy.
When I hit this point, my jaw just about crashed to the floor. My heart tensed up with excitement and my fingers flew frantically through the pages, desperate to engulf the last few chapters as the final plot unfolded around me. And in that moment I experienced one of those rare instances were stupidity is an absolutely glorious thing.
The plot of Vanishing Girls had totally duped me, but now everything was fitting into place. I went back, desperate to re-read every chapter Dara narrated, see all the places where Nick, distorted by guilt, hallucinated her sister’s presence. Suddenly Parker’s slip of the tongue took on a whole new meaning. Cheryl’s inability to keep the two sisters straight made me tremble with total intrigue. And the note Nick left on Dara’s pillow; now I realized why no one had ever opened it.
Vanishing Girls tricked me in the most drastic and best possible way. The resolution of the novel left me in a heap on the floor feeling stupid, thrilled, skeptical, and delighted all at once.
Because all the clues were there. All along.
I should have known.