The Cover: Very simple and pretty. The main focus is on the title and Lauren Oliver’s name (as it should, because she’s amazing), but the blurred image of the girl in the background gives it a sense of mystery. Seeing only her mouth and not her eyes makes you wonder what she is seeing and thinking. I’m assuming the girl is Dara, because Nick’s hair is brown. Dara starts out with her hair dyed black but her natural color is never revealed in the story.
Back Blurb: Dara and Nick used to be inseparable, but that was before–before Dara kissed Parker, before Nick lost him as her best friend, before the accident that left Dara’s beautiful face scarred. Now the two sisters, who used to be so close, aren’t speaking. In an instant, Nick lost everything and is determined to use the summer to get it all back.
But Dara has other plans. When she vanishes on her birthday, Nick thinks Dara is just playing around. But another girl has vanished, too–nine-year-old Madeline Snow–and as Nick pursues her sister, she becomes increasingly convinced that the two disappearances may be linked.
The Book: After reading Before I Fall, I fell in love with Lauren Oliver’s writing. It’s so emotional and real. She puts you right into her characters’ heads, seeing and feeling everything that she would, as if you were the one experiencing it. She does this again in Vanishing Girls, but double-time, as the story reads from two sisters’ much different perspectives.
Nick (Nicole) and Dara are less than a year apart and very close. Nick is tame and serious; Dara is wild and uninhibited. Nick always feels like she’s living in Dara’s shadow because Dara is prettier, more popular, and supposedly more loved by their parents. Dara feels that she’s always being compared to Nick, who is seemingly smarter and more responsible in their parents’ eyes. Despite their differences, Nick and Dara are the best of friends until a series of unfortunate events cause a falling out between the two. Nick has few other friends and is extremely close to Parker, a boy she’s known since childhood. Dara is constantly surrounded by people and has her pick of any boy to choose from, but she “steals” Parker away from Dara. Parker and Dara have a tumultuous relationship which comes between the two sisters. After a horrible car accident, in which Nick was driving, Dara’s body is shattered and her face is left scarred. As Dara tries to heal her physical wounds, both girls struggle with emotional pain that rips them apart.
Nick wasn’t drinking that night, but she can’t remember the accident. She doesn’t know why they were driving to the beach or what happened. She only remembers the party beforehand, and all the fights they had been in over Dara’s relationship with Parker. But Dara won’t speak to Nick; she avoids her at all costs. Dara ignores her calls and texts and steers clear of her by sneaking out through her bedroom window. Separately, both girls deal with friendships that have changed since the accident and the demise of their parents’ marriage. Their father is getting remarried while their mother is medicating herself just to get through the day.
Their seaside town of Somerville is turned upside down when a nine-year-old girl, Madeline Snow, goes missing. The police fear she has been abducted and residents silently place the blame on Madeline’s older sister, Sarah, who left her in the car while she was getting ice cream. Shortly after Madeline disappears, Dara decides to do the same. She takes off on the night of her birthday and Nick is desperate to find her. Nick discovers a horrifying connection between Madeline and Dara. During one fateful night, everything falls into place and Nick suddenly understands the heartbreaking reasons for her falling out with Dara. Sadly, nothing will ever be the same.
Vanishing Girls is written in a dual narrative, with intertwining scenes from the past and present. Most of the story is told by Nick, but there are precious glimpses of Dara’s perspective, mostly told through journal entries and other correspondences. There are even several illustrations, which are quite a treat considering we don’t see them much outside of children’s and educational books. The novel clearly focuses on character development, which is superb. Nick and Dara are, although at times unlikable, very realistic characters. They both vividly describe their feelings, perceptions, and ideas of why things are the way they are. They are often wrong and very flawed in the way they deal with real-life issues such as relationships, substance abuse, and divorce. Nick is especially pained as she suffers from an obsessive codependence on her younger sister. Lauren Oliver has created two distinct personalities that respond to the same situations in very different ways, and the story they tell is haunting. Nick and Dara are two girls you will remember long after finishing the book. Every other character has a purpose, as well, and they all tie together nicely at the end of the story.
Although the first half of the book is slowly paced, the immense build-up of the characters gives you a clear path for the speedy ending. During the events that unfold on the night of Dara’s birthday, everything finally seems to click. Nick has struggled with remembering the traumatic accident, and suddenly everything falls into place. She remembers exactly why and how it happened, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking. The twist at the end is something you really can’t prepare for. When the ending is revealed, there are many strange incidents in the story that will suddenly make sense, and it is bittersweet for most of the characters.
The only less-than-positive thing I have to say about the book is that the title and description are a bit misleading. Dara doesn’t exactly “vanish” or “disappear.” Yes, she takes off at times to avoid Nick, so the two never actually interact in the present, but there is always evidence that Dara has been there. The description gives you the impression that Dara suddenly goes missing and the story is about Nick trying to find her, but Dara doesn’t actually leave until two-thirds through the book. She doesn’t so much “disappear,” but instead plays a dangerous game of hide-and-seek to punish her sister. The reader keeps wondering when the “disappearance” is going to happen. When it finally does, the ending is very near. But the last hundred pages are thrilling; you will not be able to put it down.
Once again, Lauren Oliver has proved herself a talented writer and storyteller. Vanishing Girls quenches an insatiable desire for a gripping mystery with an emotional ending. It pulls you in right from the beginning and keeps you guessing until the last page. I’m looking forward to checking out some of her other work (Panic, Delirium, etc.) until she releases her next book.
What did you think of Vanishing Girls? Sound off in the comments below!