Initial reaction: It’s a compelling narrative in many places, don’t get me wrong, but I wasn’t happy with how it seemed to drag its heels in places, and then the ending didn’t really resonate with me as much I’d have liked, chiefly because not all the pieces set up fit together well.
“Vanishing Girls” is the first book from Lauren Oliver that I’ve read in a while (the Delirium trilogy included, and I still need to read the last book in that series). So as much as I’ve adored her stories, writing, and her eye to intimate details in the past, I’ll admit this was a bit of a rough return for me. I checked this book out of the library when I debated between doing that and buying outright. I’m actually glad I did borrow it because I think I would’ve been disappointed for what the journey provided me.
This is not to say that “Vanishing Girls” was a bad read. It wasn’t at all. I actually enjoyed parts of this – a story combining an ongoing mystery with an overarching story of grief (Honestly, I think some people could probably see the end scenario coming, but I’m keeping my references light so I won’t spoil it for anyone, because it’s one of those stories). The problem is that I’m not sure this book delivered on all of its promises, plus for the way the story builds and builds up to a certain point, the ending was a complete let down. It felt like it wanted to aim for more than it was, and then settled into something that while I could’ve felt for the scenario, the building towards something more than what it was made me feel burned by the lack of expansion.
The story revolves around the story of two sisters who’ve had a significant falling out. The primary perspective points of “Vanishing Girls” trade between Dara and Nick (Nicole) as they recover in the aftermath of a terrible car accident, with their family broken as a result of things that have changed since that event. Neither sister’s speaking to each other, neither one seems to be willing to face the other with some very bitter grudges held against the other. In the backdrop of this story, a little girl named Madeline is missing and people are undergoing a massive search in order to find out what happened to her.
There’s quite a bit going on in this story, to be sure. I listened to the audiobook version of this, and while it was well-narrated by multiple narrators, I did have to pause a few times to try to backtrack to details because of the time jumps (before and after), the multi-perspective points (Nick, Dara, and even Parker), as well as various news clippings, blog articles, and other pieces that provided supplemental details in the backdrop of everything going on in the novel. That being said, so much of the jumps made this a bit cumbersome and sluggish to get through. I took my time with it though (it took me four days to read/listen), and I appreciated Oliver’s eye for the girls’ emotions and experiences even with parts of the prose and narrative jumps being awkward for transition. I can’t fault Oliver for the emotion behind this novel because to date, I haven’t read anything from her that didn’t have a confident command over the emotional resonance conveyed by her cast of characters.
I followed the story fine, even as the intensity ramped up when Nick realizes her missing sister and the clues that were left for her to follow. It doesn’t pull punches on some crude details and the fact that her sister was wrapped up into a scenario that was troubling. But it was the ending the disappointed me the most. All that build-up and exposition and that’s what was left? Granted, Dara and Nick’s subsequent story could’ve had more impact for me personally if it didn’t feel like there were gaps and plotholes still lingering by the ending of the novel. I like having stuff to think about at the end of the novel, true, but not if it’s questions where I’m like “Well, she gave us these details, so you’re telling me that wasn’t the case? Then how did that exactly come to be? Why did that happen/what really happened?” I understood its intention for being a coming to terms of grief for the sisters, but it just felt like it dumped a bunch of stuff in my lap that ended up not being used at all. What was the point of that? To seem “twisty” and “fresh”? It really wasn’t, not with so much of the exposition and detail feeling like it was just filler to march toward a rushed conclusion.
The resolution to the mystery of the disappearing girl (Madeline) was also far too quickly resolved for me, as far as the build-up was concerned. I wanted to feel more for it. As much narrative intimacy as Oliver gave for the relationship between Dara and Nick, why couldn’t more of that been provided with the return home for the little girl who was missing? I think that whole scenario felt like it was summed up for resolution in a paragraph, and that didn’t sit well for me for a book combining the psychological with mystery aspects.
But for the journey and intimacy this did provide me for Nick and Dara’s relationship – I’ll give it credit where credit’s due, I just wish it’d amounted to more than what it did and not have been so apt to lend to the “twists” that other novels in its category (i.e. “We Were Liars” – and even that had its share of flaws) have done, and arguably have done better.
On a final, and personal, note – I have a twin sister whom I’ve grown up with and have had a wonderful relationship with for many years. It is true that we probably even have a closer relationshp than even some identical twins are purported to have (we’re fraternal, and no – at least no one I know of can mix us up by looks, it’s more like our names are super similar and the person says one name and thinks “Oop, I meant the OTHER twin!” Oy vey…). While I can’t say I’ve had nearly as contentious a relationship with my sister as Dara and Nick seem to have in this novel, I could relate to the moments of the novel where they were close and note their overarching relationship as siblings. That and the intiution when you know something is wrong when something happens to someone who’s that close to you (that has happened to me many, MANY times.)
Overall score: 2.5/5 stars.