Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

My sister and I are separated by several types of distance.  There is the obvious physical distance: I live in Houston and she lives in Dallas.  The thing about physical distance is that’s an easy fix.  I could drive to my sister’s house in less than four hours.  And I have.  Twice.  Once for my mom’s funeral.  The other time for my sister’s wedding in 2012.  Here’s the part that sucks: I haven’t seen her since.

It’s those other types of distance that have really kept us apart.  There are the years: she’s over five years younger than me.  When I went away to college she was still in elementary school (it’s a long story, just go with it).  Needless to say, we didn’t have much in common when we were younger.  Genetics, mostly.  There’s where we are in our lives: she’s fairly newlywed, and I’m just as fairly newly a mom.  The distance that (I think) is truly keeping us apart at this point is that I’m not at all the sister she grew up with.  That’s not a bad thing.  I wasn’t a very nice person.  And I think that’s the problem.  If I’m not the bitch anymore, where does that leave her?

There is a point to the above ramblings about my relationship with my sister.  Vanishing Girls is about sisters.  About sisters who are so close that when an accident creates distance between them, they are completely lost.  I can’t relate.  At all.  But I want to.  So much.

Lauren brought Dara and Nick’s relationship to life in a way that made me hate them a little.  For being so close.  For loving one another so deeply.  But I needed to hate them in order to care about them, to be invested in their joys and sorrows.  I love the use of texts, journals, photos, and other media outside standard prose to tell the story.  I don’t think it would have been possible to do the story justice without those outside perspectives.   The prose alternates between the two sisters, and it’s painfully lovely to see how they see one another.  They both want so much to be the other sister.

Vanishing Girls is ridiculously intense.  Fortunately there is a secondary storyline about a vanishing girl.  It breaks up the gravity of Dara and Nick’s relationship, although that’s not the true purpose of that disappearance (I can’t elaborate without a spoiler).  About half the book is set in a mildly decrepit amusement park called Fantasy Land (yes, it sounds like a strip club, so it goes by FanLand), which also adds a little brevity.  There’s also a tiny bit of romance.  And the best part of any Lauren Oliver novel: the slightly open-ended ending.

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