I haven’t been reading YA as frequently as I used to. The characters tend to get on my nerves and the sentences are more likely to bother me. While The Disappearances is far from perfect, it has a unique and refreshing premise. Murphy created a story steeped in mystery laced with literary references. The amount of research and prep that went into this stories structure is impressive. And as Murphy’s debut novel, she will only strengthen her style and voice.
Aila and her brother Miles are shipped off to live with her deceased mother’s childhood friend after their father is drafted into WWl. The siblings are treated with distrust and disdain because their mother left Sterling and never came back. Aila learns their mother was blamed for a curse blanketing the town and the surrounding towns for decades. The disappearances occur every seven years. Smell disappeared first. The stars. Colors from paint and pencils. A person’s reflection. Children born into these towns grow up without these senses. When Aila and Miles arrive, they lose all of them as well.
Each disappearance could be linked back to Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets. Murphy must have read Shakespeare backward and forward to pull out just the right lines to create a story around them. Using everything she’s learned from her mother’s personal copy of Shakespeare’s collected works, Aila helps the town inventor and her new group of friends to lift the curse that has plagued the town for so long.
The Disappearances is a story that suffers from “weak ending” syndrome. The ending seemed too easy. There were questions left unanswered. Not that the story rose those questions, but I wanted to know more about why that worked or how that didn’t work. It wasn’t explored enough for me to feel completely satisfied. My final feeling is that it was good; worthwhile premise but lackluster ending.
The universe is sending me messages about sisters. I didn’t mean to read back to back books containing a strong sister bond but now that I have, my tear ducts are shriveled and dry. The tag line on the front of the ARC of Caraval is “Remember, it’s only a game…” but when it comes to your sister, it’s never just a game. The main characters Scarlett will protect her sister, Tella, from anyone and anything.
Scarlett has to be mother and best friend and older sister while protecting Tella from their manipulative, abusive father. Of course Tella has a wild streak that makes it difficult to protect her but Scarlett does her best making sure their father stays unaware of Tella’s actions. Scarlett doesn’t always succeed and it was startling to find out how their father, the governor of a small isle, punishes his daughters. Caraval is essentially an elaborate circus, with less animals, and a scavenger hunt twist. Legend is the ringmaster with plenty of performers to make the five night event feel like a daring adventure. The players are warned at the start “it’s only a game” but the performers encourage them to indulge during the game.
Each year Legend creates a game of tricks and clues for the prize at the end. This year it’s a wish, but to win you have to find the stolen item. Scarlett and Tella have a lot of things to wish for but Scarlett quickly learns she has more at stake when the stolen item to find is her sister. Scar has never been the daring one but she will risk her father’s wrath and her engagement to find Tella first. She has help from the sailor that got the sisters to Caraval but he seems to know too much about the game and has an awful lot of secrets for Scarlett to completely trust him.
Stephanie Garber wrote a magical tale not only of a sister’s love but of self-discovery and self-worth. I loved the world of Caraval. Magical, inviting, but dangerous and a little faded around the edges. Garber added wonderful details to make the island feel tangible. Some of my issues were with the clues Scarlett was searching for. Sometimes it seemed she forgot she was looking for clues at all, and the second, third, and fourth clues happened all at once. It didn’t feel like Scarlett had to work for them and it was really rushed, but then she still didn’t find her sister for some time. The plot structure in the middle was just a little of but I loved the cliff hanger at the end. The story wrapped up but it’s far from over. Hopefully we get to follow Tella on the next adventure.
On the back of the ARC, there is a blurb that says “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo meets Gone Girl” and it’s a pretty accurate description. I got more Dragon Tattoo than Gone Girl but I see what they’re saying. This is a solid story. It’s not that it took me by surprise because I expected it to be bad, but I surprised myself by how fast I drank this story in. Twists and turns and danger makes for some fast reading but it helps when you care about the characters.
Christina a.k.a. Tina a.k.a. Tiny Girl/Tiny is broken in so many believable ways. Fleeing the Congo as a young child with a single mother can’t be easy but who would have thought living in a gated estate is where she would end up being orphaned. Living on the street, learning to pickpocket is where she becomes Tiny Girl. The pickpocketing is just practice until she becomes stronger, faster, sneakier, until she can take on her revenge.
Natalie Anderson not only created believable characters but wove together an intricate story of secrets. Anderson tore Tina’s world apart and let us watch her put it back together. She has a strong writing voice but my one critique of her writing was how American the characters sounded. These are teenagers and street thugs who grew up in the Congo or in Sangui City but sometimes is was hard to think of them as natives. And yet on the other hand, I completely believed her description of the area. Of course I’ve never been there to see it myself but nothing about her world building took me out of the story.
As the book worked up to the fast-paced resolution, I got nervous it would fall apart. It would have been easy with one minor change and I would have been disappointed. But I’m happy with how the conflict resolved. And then the last couple of pages happened. In my defense, anything to do with sisters gets me a little emotional but as I finished the book, I was on a plane to Minnesota for my sister’s wedding. Let’s just say I stared out the window until I got myself under control again. Not saying anyone else will end up an emotional mess like I did, but it is touching. Natalie Anderson did a great job for being a debut author and it’ll be fun to see what else she comes up with.
A Holocaust story is an ambitious endeavor for a debut author. Gavriel Savit wrote a historical fiction young adult novel centering around Poland as the Nazis invaded. What I really liked about the book is it wasn’t a story about the war but a story about a young girl on the run as the war is happening around her. Anna’s father leaves for a meeting at the University he teaches at and never comes home. The family friend watching Anna for the day doesn’t want to take the responsibility of harboring a child that might bring unwanted attention from the Nazis and leaves Anna on the street. Not having a mother anymore and no one willing to care for her, Anna is now alone in the world.
A tall, thin man sees Anna sitting in the street and questions what she is doing there by asking her in several different languages. Anna’s father was a linguistics professor and she has grown up with various languages spoken freely. Anna immediately feels a connection with the strange man because of his knowledge of languages and his knowledge of one language she doesn’t know, the song of a swallow bird. This mysterious man allows Anna to follow him out of Krakow and into the surrounding forest where Anna will grow up into a young woman. Anna and the reader never learn the man’s name so because of his connection with swallows, Anna names him Swallow Man while calling him Daddy when strangers are around. The Swallow Man teaches Anna how to survive on the run. He also teaches her the language of Road, a way to lie to the strangers you encounter while being sincere about it.
Gavriel Savit weaves a fairy tale-esk story with beautiful images of loneliness and wanting. Anna and the Swallow Man learn little about each other in their time together but they are caretakers of the other throughout their journey. The ending was left very open ended. We hope Anna will be taken care of but it’s hard to say what will become of her Swallow Man.
Post-apocalyptic is the fad right now. Some of it is good and the movies have been fun for the most part. The Fire Sermon is the first in a new trilogy that just might be able to stand with the best of them.
Francesca Haig twisted the dystopian genre in a way that is interesting and adding some elements that I appreciated. Machines caused the apocalypse and even though 400 years later humanity has made a comeback, technology has not. Technology is always the bad guy but when civilization is able to get back on its feet we see technology spring forward as well. Haig went screaming in the other direction, reverting humanity back to horses and carriages.
Haig created an interesting plot with the Alphas and Omegas. Everyone is born as a twin, no exceptions. The Alpha is perfect and the Omega has some sort of deformity, be it a missing arm or a third eye. The main character Cass is an Omega but you wouldn’t know it by looking at her. She was born a Seer. Feared by the Alphas and hated by the Omegas. I liked Cass as a main character for the most part. She was complex. But sometimes I wondered if she was too complex for her own good. Cass would explain her motivations and beliefs a lot throughout the book, to different people. But those conversations were always a little muddy. I started to wonder if Haig was having a hard time explaining the driving force behind the plot or if she doesn’t know her main character very well. The writing overall was good and any other conversation was concise. It was just Cass I had a hard time following every now and then. The Fire Sermon never slows down in its 370 pages. I kept wondering what Haig could possibly put into two more books but she does leave us with questions. I’m looking forward to following Cass and what will become of the Resistance in the next two installments.
The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig is expected to be published March 10, 2015 by Gallery Books