Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver
Available: Hardcover, Kindle edition
Young adult fiction has been getting darker and more realistic with each year. Lauren Oliver has been at the helm for much of it, beginning with Before I Fall and followed by the immensely successful Delirium series. While dystopian YA has been the main thrust of the genre for years, culminating with The Hunger Games and Divergent, teens also have been clamoring for something more personal.
Oliver has delivered both over the past the few years and with Vanishing Girls, has hit it out of the park with an unsettling, dark tale that will resonate with the reader long after the book is closed. She knows teens well, how they speak, act, and think. It shows on the page in a brisk read that will fly by.
The book begins with notes from a therapist which immediately suggests things will not be as they appear. Sisters Dara and Nick have always been close, sharing their worlds. Nick is the quieter, reserved sibling, while Dara’s wild side tends to be well explored They are competing for a common love interest: Parker, the boy next door, who lends a natural tension to the story. A car accident shreds their relationship and much more when Dara is left facially disfigured, and shuns her sister. What ensues is a jump down the rabbit hole, in which the reader is twisted and turned through phases of reality. The characters are more complex than those typically found in YA fiction, and face issues that teens do face, ignoring any sugarcoating.
Nick takes a job at a local amusement park, which brings her into another world, showing what happens behind the bright lights, and after the midway and rides shut down. Just as the reader might think the story is becoming a romance, the dark sets in, as a young girl goes missing. As Nick delves into the mystery of the missing girl, Dara disappears.
Oliver builds suspense steadily, and keeps the plot unpredictable, drawing on the complexity of the characters. The ending is satisfying and completely worth the wait. Oliver has crafted a near perfect thriller, and her writing improves with each subsequent book.
Recommended for middle school and high school libraries, for mature teens and older, Vanishing Girls, in addition to being a great thriller, can be an excellent learning experience about mental illness for many and show others that they’re not dealing with the issues alone.