A big Thank You to BookishFirst and Viking Books/Penguin for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Rules for Vanishing recounts the events of a single night in the lives of a group of friends, through a mix of media similar to the long-admired “Blair Witch Project.” Exactly a year ago, Sara’s sister disappeared on The Road that appears in the woods--a road haunted by the ghost of a long-missing girl named Lucy Gallows. Now, on the anniversary of her sister’s disappearance, Sara decides to see if she can find the Road herself. She and her friends set out to find her sister, but the road has rules, and it’s not long before they learn the consequences of breaking them…
I absolutely loved this story. I picked it up one evening and didn’t really put it down until I’d finished it the next afternoon. The plot and premise were gripping, and writing was horrifying, and the overall aesthetic was completely captivating.
The plot in this book moves fast, particularly due to the nature of the “text.” It’s a combination of transcripts and recorded statements from the different characters affected by That Night. These brief and broken sections keep you turning pages, and they also expertly mask important clues to figuring out exactly what happened to the friends who dared to step onto the road. A section will build suspence toward an epic conclusion--and then the medium will change, and the reader is left flipping madly forward to figure out the end of that particular scene.
This book offered something I value greatly in mysteries--it gave the reader the ability to figure out where the story was headed without giving too much away. I was flipping back and forth constantly, revisiting sections that I hadn’t realized were breadcrumbs guiding me toward the ultimate conclusion. The subtlety keeps you guessing, but the ending feels so obvious that you can hardly believe you missed it! A brilliant work of thrilling horror that builds upon itself, revealing only enough at a time to keep the reader desperate for more.
Rules for Vanishing also features one of my personal favorite YA tropes--that of a group of friends. There were a lot of characters to balance in this story, and yet Marshall handles them expertly. Everyone feels unique and has personality. While the only first-person accounts come from Sara, the reader can still grow attached to other characters. This group was a great hodge-podge of diversity, and it didn’t feel forced. It felt like an organic group of high school students recklessly braving a dare together. The sacrifices that the characters make for each other speak of real companionship and loyalty, and I was invested in each of them until the end.
As an aside, I also appreciated that this story didn’t dwell too heavily on romance; the majority of the relationships the book captures are friendships and families, which are so important and underrepresented in YA. There are some lovely romances, but they aren’t at the crux of the story.
My summation of the plot already speaks to the quality of the writing here. Marshall paints a dark and ominous picture that chills your bones and drives you forward, searching for hidden answers. The pace of the book is fast, and even so the writing makes each scene feel like it’s creeping forward in awful suspense--you’ll be on the edge of your seat! I loved how quickly the book read and yet how deep it got, and the overall aesthetic of mixed-media compilation was a rounding success.
If I had to offer a critique--and it is a small one--it would be that the characters seem to suspend all disbelief quite quickly and easily as the book unfolds. Due to the nature of the world the characters find, they must move quickly through challenges accompanied by things of utter horror. The level of terror the characters experience seems to be less than you might expect--although, one could also argue that the other-world-ness of The Road leads these characters to accept things they would normally question. While there were times in which I wondered if a character had fully reacted to a situation like I thought they should, these passing thoughts did nothing to deter my absolute enjoyment in reading this book.
Rules for Vanishing is phenomenal, and should be the hit horror book of this autumn season! I would recommend it to fans of Stephen King, Mindy McGinnis, Moira Fowley-Doyle, and Josh Malerman. If you like creepy books with strange and supernatural happenings, books with narratives you don’t know if you can trust, stories about ghosts that are more complex than they appear--this book is definitely for you! Five huge stars, and I will be auto-buying all Kate Alice Marshall books from here on out.