“Our group would become one of those urban legends that other kids talk about in hushed voices over summer campfires”—Mean Girls meets Gone Girl with one runaway, one suicide, and one losing her mind. E. E. Cooper’s Vanished has made the if-you-liked-Gone-Girl-then-you’ll-like-this-young-adult-novel lists, and those lists are spot on. Told from the perspective of Kalah, the younger transfer student who has been taken under the wing of the popular senior field hockey captains, the vanishing act occurs in chapter two. Beth, the girl from the middle class family unable to deal with the earlier loss of a perfect son, disappears on her eighteenth birthday. The disappearance triggers Kalah’s anxiety and OCD. In the meantime, Britney, the only child of wealthy but neglectful parents, discovers that her boyfriend may have been cheating with best friend Beth, which triggers her suicide. Once envied by everyone, Kalah becomes a pariah, detached from friends not sure what or who to believe, especially after she begins receiving emails from the missing Beth. Kalah’s realizations occur a little quickly for the lengthy build up, but readers will be left rooting for Kalah and wanting to know how she will exact her vengeance.
I make no secret of the fact that I typically do not enjoy reading young adult literature; I am not its intended audience, but more importantly, I find most of it formulaic. Nothing wrong with a formula and a happily-ever-after, but I want and expect more for my reading pleasure (I would probably consider my reading genre “literary fiction”). However, I chose Vanished and two other young adult novels because they appeared on a list of ya-books-to-read-if-you-liked-Gone-Girl. I liked Gone Girl, but the graphic violence and sexual references are too much for me to recommend it to students (it’s in our school library for any student who wants to check it out). I’m not sure why I chose to read Vanished first, but I’m glad that I did. As a debut novel, E. E. Cooper has a lot to live up to in her sophomore novel (that I will watch for and plan to read just based on the success of this novel).
The novel includes numerous allusion to Alice in Wonderland with the key to understanding the deception (which I won’t give away here) in “a line by the Queen of Hearts: ‘Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast'” (220). Kalah’s anxiety is well depicted in her battles to not tap six times, in her panic attack, and in lines such as, “I’d already chewed my thumbnail down, exposing the tender flesh underneath, and I was working to complete the gnaw-manicure on my other fingers. It’s a good thing I wasn’t planning to hold hands with anyone soon” (278). Not only is the nail symbolic of Kalah–“tender flesh underneath”–but “gnaw manicure” summarizes in two words the toll that anxiety has had on Kalah and on the reader. Of course, for the plot, one of the girls has to be a sociopath, but she is believable and a little scary in that everyone would describe her as “normal.” But it is a work of fiction; I can accept a teeanaged sociopath.
As I said in the review paragraph, Kalah’s aha! moment is rushed. And while she is the narrator, I would have liked to understand about the problems at her previous school earlier; that backstory is also rushed at the end, but would have been more impactful if both the readers and the authorities had known about it, which would have undermined some of Kalah’s credibility but added to the suspense. The story ends without a final resolution, much like Gone Girl. I’m okay with that; I expect that Kalah has learned much and will be very successful in her vengeance.
This novel is most definitely for high school readers; I would even suggest it to my college-aged students. And, to repeat myself, keep an eye out for E. E. Cooper’s next book; I expect her to become an author that I recommend to my students without having read a new book because her writing is that good.