Sunday, 16 July 2017

Sunday Street Team - The Disappearances

Sunday Street Team is the brainchild of the very lovely Nori over at Read Write Love, shining the spotlight on new releases by new authors. For the July edition, I review the debut YA novel of Emily Bain Murphy - The Disappearances. Thanks to co-organisers Nori and Aditi for letting me be part of this tour! I absolutely loved this book - but I'll save the gushing for the review a bit further down. First up, here's a little more about the book, the author, and a chance to win one of three copies (if you're based in the US - sorry my fellow Brits and international readers!)

What if the ordinary things in life suddenly…disappeared?

Aila Quinn’s mother, Juliet, has always been a mystery: vibrant yet guarded, she keeps her secrets beyond Aila’s reach. When Juliet dies, Aila and her younger brother Miles are sent to live in Sterling, a rural town far from home--and the place where Juliet grew up.

Sterling is a place with mysteries of its own. A place where the experiences that weave life together--scents of flowers and food, reflections from mirrors and lakes, even the ability to dream--vanish every seven years.

No one knows what caused these “Disappearances,” or what will slip away next. But Sterling always suspected that Juliet Quinn was somehow responsible--and Aila must bear the brunt of their blame while she follows the chain of literary clues her mother left behind.

As the next Disappearance nears, Aila begins to unravel the dual mystery of why the Disappearances happen and who her mother truly was. One thing is clear: Sterling isn’t going to hold on to anyone's secrets for long before it starts giving them up.

Preorder links
Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Target

The Review

The Disappearances is an incredibly well-written and self-assured debut novel. The author's writing is wonderfully immersive; intriguing without being frustrating and serene without being boring. It's the perfect writing style for a slow-burn, character-focused mystery.

The book blurb is deceptive, and, in my opinion, sells the story short. The Disappearances themselves are not the story. The story is the effects of loss and grief of those left behind when something or someone suddenly disappears. What if you woke up one morning and someone or something that was an integral part of your life just ... wasn't there anymore? How do you cope, and what does it mean for the parts of you that remain? Part mystery, part contemprary YA, ultimately this is a story about life, love and loss, and the seemingly small shared experiences that connect us - the things that make us human.

After the death of her beloved mother, Aila and her troublemaker little brother Miles are sent away by their father when he's called to fight in WW2. The only person, it seems, who will take them, it their mother's childhood friend, Matilda, who takes the pair back to the mysterious town of Sterling where their mother grew up, and that is subject every seven years to a "Disppearance." Aila doesn't just have to battle her grief; she has to unravel the mysteries of Sterling and the Disappearances, all the while dealing with the hostility of the townspeople who resent her mother for escaping the cursed town, and deal with her emerging feelings for Matilda's son, Will.

At first, the Disappearances themselves seem a bit trivial, but they're all little things that make up life and human connection. First it's the sense of smell - the sense most closely linked to memory. Then it's reflections - the sense of physical self. Then it's the sight of the stars - the anchors of our place in the universe. Then goes music. Then the ability to hear the voice of the person you love. These losses are remedied - albeit temporarily - by magical enchantments, known as variants. At first, all of this is frustratingly vague. With first person pov, you're bound as a reader to what the character knows, whihc in this case isn't that much. This casually throwing around of "magic", for all intents and purposes, seemed a little contrived at first, but it became such an integral part of the world so quickly that, before I knew it, I had accepted it as easily as Aila. 

The mystery of Sterling (and its two sister towns also affected by the curse) gradually unravels to Aila, and the reader. The chapters are interspersed with interludes from a mystery man named Stefan, which shed more light (and raise more questions!) on the Disappearances, and build tension brilliantly. There's a real sense of impending danger from the character, and his intermitting presence injects creepy dread into the story. It's masterfully done, subtle and intriguing without feeling shoehorned in. In first person pov stories, the use of another character's pov every now and then can feel like "cheating" - like the author's written themselves into a corner and needs to convey information that their protagonist can't possibly know - but here, it works.

I didn't think a whole lot of Aila as a character as I was reading the book. It was only after I'd finished that I realised how good a job the author had done. Aila is sketched lightly enough that I as a reader could easily slip into her pov whenever I picked up the book, but shaded enough that I believed her emotions and motivations. She's sad without being self-pitying, determined without being callous, and resourceful witohut feeling the need to pat herself on the back every other page. Aila's relationship with her brother Miles was brilliantly written too. Sure, he's a pain in her ass, but both are struggling with grief in their own ways; they pull away from each other even as they're bound by something only the two of them can truly understand. The other supporting characters were a mixed bag, although I loved Aila's new besties; Beas (although I never got straight in my head how I should be pronouncing her name. Beas like peas? Bess?) and George. I could have done without the pretty blonde mean-girl, Eliza. I'm not a huge fan of girl on girl hate, and their animosity - played out over boys, of course - was a bit cliche. She was redeemed a bit towards the end, but the "mean girl comes good in the end" bit was the icing on the cliche cake. Will was a pretty good love interest, if a little bland. I was relieved their relationship came across as genuine - unbelievable instalove is another of my pet peeves (and woe betide any book that uses a magical bond to try and convince me its characters are in love!) - and touchingly sweet. The reveals of how they feel about each other was wonderfully done and tragically poignant, lending another layer of human misery to the effects of the Disappearances.

As Aila and her friends delve deeper into the mystery of the curse plaguing their town, they begin to dig into the works of Shakespeare, which seem to hold both an allusion to the Disappearances themselves and the key to creating the variant to combat it. I loved the references to the works Shakespeare - many overt and some discreet - even if the revelation about his role in the curse was a bit silly. With such a big set up, it's a bit of a stretch to believe that a stranger could just walk into town and solve a mystery it's finest minds had been working on for years, but, honestly, who would thiknk to check the works of Shakespeare for clues!? The twist in the tale and the key to the Disappearnaces is set up so well so early on, that it doesn't feel like the author has just waved a get out of jail free card around at the end. Everything is earned, and everything is believable.

The 1940s setting of the story was a bit wasted (it was only due to the occasional references to an onging war and the date that reminded me every now and then that this story wasn't set in the present day), and the pace was a bit too slow for me at times. The end was a bit of a letdown. It makes sense given the slow-burn story and gently flowing writing style that the climax wouldn't be explosive, but I was hoping for more drama anyway. The Disappearances misses out on the full five stars because the little nitpicks I had throughout the book, but it's a gripping, beautiful story by an incredibly talented author.


The Author

Emily Bain Murphy grew up in Indiana, Hong Kong, and Tokyo, and has also called California, Connecticut, and Massachusetts home.

She loves books, Japanese karaoke, exploring new cities, and anything with Nutella. Her debut YA fantasy, THE DISAPPEARANCES, will be published by HMH Books for Young Readers and Pushkin Press in July 2017.

Murphy is represented by Peter Knapp at Park Literary & Media. She currently lives in St. Louis with her family and is at work on her second novel.

Author links
Twitter | Instagram | Website

The Giveaway

The Prize: 3 Copies of The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy
Open to US residents only

a Rafflecopter giveaway



  1. Dear Mikayla,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to review The Disappearances for the SST Blog Tour and we hope to see you again soon.

    SO glad you loved the book.