I'm sharing the love for The Disappearance of Emily H. this week. It's an intriguing magical realism/mysterious disappearance story, that eventually turned into something quite unexpected.
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Hardcover, 256 pages
Published May 12th 2015 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Format read: ARC via publisher
A girl is missing. Three girls are lying. One girl can get to the truth.
Emily Huvar vanished without a trace. And the clues are right beneath Raine’s fingertips. Literally. Raine isn’t like other eighth graders. One touch of a glittering sparkle that only Raine can see, and she’s swept into a memory from the past. If she touches enough sparkles, she can piece together what happened to Emily.
When Raine realizes that the cliquey group of girls making her life miserable know more than they’re letting on about Emily’s disappearance, she has to do something. She’ll use her supernatural gift for good . . . to fight evil.
But is it too late to save Emily?
Author Barrie Summy introduces us to Raine, a young girl with the supernatural ability to see memories. It's both a blessing and a curse, as Raine struggles with the compulsive need to grab memories or "sparkles" that others can't see, but also finds a quiet joy in being able to understand those around her, on a deeper level.
After Raine and her mother move to the town of Yielding, Raine decides to take that understanding one step further, by using her ability to investigate the mystery behind a classmate's disappearance. However, she quickly realizes that the circumstances behind the disappearance are far more complicated than she ever could have imagined…
It's very rare that I'll find a book that works as both a coming-of-age novel and a mystery, but The Disappearance of Emily H. absolutely fits the bill. Summy starts off the novel by introducing us to Raine, sharing both the background on her ability, and her life prior to Yielding. We quickly learn that Raine has struggled with her mom's constant desire to move at the first sign of trouble, and Raine wants nothing more than for them to settle down and finally belong.
There's an innate yearning for acceptance on Raine's part, so it's not all that surprising when Raine ends up feeing an immediate kinship to the missing Emily. Summy does a nice job of drawing parallels between the two girls, highlighting their desire to fit in and their struggles at school - especially at the hands of resident mean girl Jennifer.
As we see in Emily's memories on how she was bullied by Jennifer, and also see Raine undergoing the same experience, Summy pointedly asks readers to consider just why someone like Jennifer is allowed to bully and get away with it. It's a subtle but important look into the dangers of bullying culture, and Summy's analysis makes us question the inherent challenges with solving the problem, while also dually moving the narrative forward.
As Summy lets Raine delver deeper into Emily's disappearance, the mystery grows in scope and complexity. While many of the main plays are tied together in a surprising and intriguing way, some readers may also find issue with the second half of the book. Summy reveals that some of the fundamental set-up in the first half was essentially a red herring, designed to cover up an issue that is far more convoluted than Raine could have possibly imagined.
While I absolutely understood the rational for that red herring, I did think to myself more than once, "So, is this one of those situations where one call to the police would basically solve everything...?" while reading. But to her credit, Summy tacitly acknowledges this expectation and Raine gives a sensible, age-appropriate explanation for why she opts to not go that route.
I strongly recommend for readers, especially for fans who like their mysteries with just a hint of magical realism.
About the author:
BARRIE SUMMY is the author of the I So Don’t Do mystery series starring thirteen-year-old detective Sherry Holmes Baldwin. She lives in Southern California with her husband, their four children, two dogs, a veiled chameleon, and a fish. There was once a dwarf hamster, but let’s not go there. Visit her online atbarriesummy.com and follow her on Facebook.