I read Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver in May, and I knew immediately that I needed more Lauren Oliver in my life. So, in June I bought Vanishing Girls and it didn’t disappoint! Nick and Dara had a cool sister/frenemy dynamic between them from the start, even without the Parker drama! (But what YA book about teen girls is complete without at least a touch of boy drama? None, I say! It’s the drama we love to hate, especially when you realize you’re 22, married, and WAY too invested in the love lives of 17-year-olds. I digress.)
Along with the character dynamics, I really liked that the POV switched back and forth between Nick and Dara. Dara could have easily been the reckless, daring younger sister and nothing else, but being able to see her softer side helped me connect more with her and, by extension, Nick. I also think the POV switch helped me from siding too much with one character, and because these two were often pitted against each other, that was important.
Now, where I had trouble with the story was the build to the climax. I’m all about a slow burn when it comes to tension in a story, but Vanishing Girls was more of a stubborn flame that refused to light and then suddenly exploded in the second half of the book. The front flap tells us that Dara vanishes, so I assumed she’d, you know, vanish! I know what you’re thinking, “You know what they say about assuming, Mallory,” but the front cover said there’d be a disappearance so excuse me for expecting that to be the main part of the plot! *Calming Breaths.* Once Dara did finally disappear, I literally couldn’t put the book down. I’m not ashamed to say I carried it with me to the restroom on more than one occasion. If you like mysteries and romance and sister drama, then this book is definitely for you. If you don't like those things, then...have you considered non-fiction? I hear computer manuals are mystery free!
This brings me to the ending, which is especially spoilery. If you don’t want the ending to be ruined, then I suggest you stop here.
Hopefully you’ve come back post-reading Vanishing Girls to see what I thought about the ending you have just read. If you haven’t read the ending yet, then I’m really not sure what you are doing here. I will give you one more chance to not spoil the ending of this book for yourself. Seriously, this is the last chance. Leave. Go. Get out of here.
So, Vanishing Girls had a twist ending. I’m not sure how you feel about twist endings, but I had a creative writing professor in college who banned them (along with stories about death) from the class because he believed they were used for cheap thrills in place of a well-thought out plot. I don’t think my views are as strong as his, but I did have some deep-rooted emotional issues with the twist. I felt cheated.
Don’t get me wrong, I liked the ending. I was super surprised that Dara had been dead the entire time and Lauren Oliver did a really good job of placing clues throughout the story that I looked back at with an “Oh, of course! How could I not have realized that Nick had a mental break and thought she was her sister!” reaction. However, Dara was dead….the ENTIRE TIME, and I didn’t know it. That bothered me. I felt like the character I’d connected to and sympathized with was a lie. We never really knew Dara, except for her diary entries, because everything from her POV was Nick pretending to be Dara! That is like telling someone you are going to make them cookies. You turn on the oven, you set the timer, and you light a cookie-scented candle. Sure, it smells like cookies. Heck, it even looks like you are actually baking cookies. But, alas, when that timer goes off and the oven is opened, that person is left cookieless and you are down one friend.
In the end, I'm torn. I liked the ending, but I also hated it. I was happy with Nick and Parker, but I was also still sad about Dara. (Because, lets be honest, at this point I was still mourning Dara's death, even though it happened several months beforehand!!) This book did some messed up things to my brain, and I think that might have been the point.
Overall, I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes mysteries or psychological teasers (I may have just invented that genre of book).