Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
— warning this post contains spoilers —
This definitely goes into the category of “I suffered so you don’t have to” books. I usually like Lauren Oliver’s books but not always. I think Rooms was boring and pointless, although I really liked Before I Fall and the Delirium trilogy. I thought Panic was “eh” with moments of greatness. Unfortunately Vanishing Girls is closer to Rooms in the pointless and ridiculously loquacious writing than it was to the books I actually like of Oliver’s. I’m frustrated by the change in her writing to awkward and unpleasing analogies and the over use of cliché plot points that other books have done better and more successfully. I can’t say I loathed Vanishing Girls but I did hate on it pretty hard. I wanted to quit so many times but I also wanted to see if I was right about everything (sadly I was. STOP BEING PREDICTABLE!). Even die-hard fans should avoid this one.
Ok – Vanishing Girls is mostly about an eighteen-year-old girl named Nicole/Nick and her trouble relationship to younger sister Dara. The book is split into before the car accident and after. A car accident in which Nick was driving with Dara as the passenger, but Nick has no memory of the event. The narration jumps between before and after the accident told through Nick’s point of view and Dara’s, which includes selections from Dara’s journal. It’s a pretty typical story about sisters that are very close in age and vacillate between love and hate as they fight over boys, clothes, parents, and who’s to blame for leaving the toothpaste cap off.
I got about 20% of the way through before I realized I could predict everything going on in the book, and not in a good way. The entire premise relies on a very well known cliché – one of the protagonists is dead but the reader isn’t supposed to figure that out. Except the story painted a neon sign with this information extremely early on. I know it was to begin laying clues but it was obvious and unsuccessful. I could tell that “Dara” was really Nick having a psychological breakdown and pretending to be her sister. It was really obvious and thus cringe inducing, as Nick would pretend to be Dara then while she was “Nick” have no knowledge of what happened while she was Dara. And of course no one else ever noticed her doing this. It was clunky, awkward, and painful to read. Not just due to the obvious nature of the so-called twist, but because the reader is supposed to continue to be invested in the whole “why is Dara mad at me, I want to make it better” storyline. Since Dara is dead, I couldn’t care about Nick’s frantic search to find her – check out the graveyard.
The story tries REALLY HARD to give clues about Dara being dead but the clues are so obvious it’s simply unsuccessful. People in Nick’s life from her parents to Parker would have picked up on Nick’s ridiculous behavior and confronted her. The conversations Nick has where she alludes to Dara but everyone else knows she’s dead don’t make sense. Her parents would have picked up on the obvious subtext that Nick thinks Dara is alive. Also in four months since the accident that Nick can’t remember, no one, literally no one, has mentioned Dara’s death or funeral or how they’re so sorry for her loss? Right. The premise just doesn’t work here at all. It’s obvious in a bad way and the author can’t really pull it off.
Then there is the dynamic between the sisters. I read some reviews where they complained real sisters don’t act the way Dara and Nick did but I would disagree. The two sisters are caricatures, sure, but their emotions are very authentic. The jealousy, bitterness, and push/pull dynamic are very reminiscent of my own relationship growing up with my sister. I could definitely identify with some, not all, of the emotions and situations that were described and I was 100% sure my sister would as well. Not all sisterly relationships are wonderful. They’re complicated because it’s a relationship forced on you and so you fight for something and someone that you’d probably want nothing to do with otherwise. I could sympathize with both sisters and their struggle, while knowing they are exaggerations for effect. Neither character is really good or bad, they’re just immature nor quite sure who they are and what their place is in life.
While I could identify and sympathize with the sisters and their twisted dynamic, it wasn’t enjoyable to read. I disliked almost every single character of the book. Something that wasn’t helped with the writing. Oliver has taken to adding odd and unpleasant analogies that serve to take you out of the story. It should instead give a visceral understanding of the emotion described but it seemed like Oliver would throw in as many similes and analogies as she could just because she could. They often didn’t fit the emotion or they would be awkward and actually detract from what they were describing. I found the writing to be oddly clunky and unlikable.
In the end there was little I liked about the book. I actively started hating it when I realized the big “twist” was actually Dara was dead which anyone with a functioning brain cell would have figured out almost immediately. So it kills any tension or purpose to the story. Why should the reader continue to wonder where Dara is? Why she and her sister never talk or actually communicate and call each other out in a verbal way? Any of the supposed questions of the book are answered early on – Dara is dead. End of story. The actual end is just a way to wrap up an irrelevant side story line to give the book a title. I was really sorry I read this.