Holy moly, ghouls and pals! This book. I was looking for a spooky read and this faux-documentary style story in the vein of The Blair Witch Project looked incredibly promising. Not only does it deliver on the spookiness, but it is so much more than that. If you are a fan of found footage and mixed media storytelling, please add this one to your October TBRs.
"FIND THE ROAD. FIND THE GATES. FIND THE GIRL."
The writing is effortless and instantly engaging. I love the quick and snappy flow to the story and how cohesive it feels despite being told in a series of mixed media documents that are assembled a bit out of order. The way the files are organized makes for a tense thriller of a read that is difficult to put down. (Honestly, there is so much I WANT to say about how masterfully crafting and plotted this story is, but I will refrain because I don't want to ruin the experience for you. Please DM me though when you read it so we can screech!)
"Ghost stories are a vibrant, essential part of local culture."
As a person who spent many a night in high school driving around Elfin Forest in search of the Lady in White, I've long been fascinated by local legends and the grains of truth within the lore. I love me a story revolving around local legends, and the local lore surrounding the Legend of Lucy Gallows? I'd totally wander the forest at night to seek the truth, too.
"In the house in the town in the woods on the road are the halls that breathe. The singing will lure you the smoke will infest you the words will unmake you the woman will hate you."
I had the expectation that this would be a tense and plot-driven tale but was so pleasantly surprised to find a cast of fully developed characters with robust backstories. Beneath the surface lay layers of complexity with the characters and their complicated relationships with one another, adding another layer of tension to the story because you are equally invested in the characters not only surviving the path but also returning to normal.
I felt so intensely connected with Sara and the way she retreated into herself after Becca vanished as if she didn't want to lose anyone else so she preemptively stepped back. But Marshall also nails the feelings of guilt and shame associated with that self-isolation, along with the irrational anger that her friends eventually moved on. But despite that, even after being effectively ghosted for a year, Sara's friends all show up in the woods that night to be here for her.
TRINA (4:21 pm): I left Sara off because we need to talk about what to do and I don't want her shutting us down.
TRINA (4:24 pm): So . . . what are we going to do?
ANTHONY (4:25 pm): I'm going. Whatever anyone else decides.
TRINA (4:25 pm): Me too.
I love the focus on both sibling and platonic love in this book. Especially since Becca is adopted. Only about six months apart in age, Sara and Becca grew up very close. I love that adopted sisterly love is highlighted here because I feel like that is so rare in media to see.
I also love how effortlessly diverse this book is and how it mirrors the diversity of the real world perfectly. The cast of characters has people of various ethnicity and sexual orientation (and there may even be a budding f/f relationship!). Even more impressive is that ableism and insensitivity are called out multiple times in text (making fun of Vanessa's stutter, jokes about suicide, etc.) and the person apologizes and stops their harmful behavior. This is the kind of book I want to see published today.
"You can never catch up with her, they say, and you will find yourself alone in the bewildering woods, with no sign of a road or a girl or a clear way home.
So be careful what roads you take, and be careful who you follow down them."
Now the creep factor? I am a tough person to ask in terms of gauging how scary a book is because I grew up on horror and I think I have a different scale than most people. While I was never outright terrified, the writing is intensely descriptive and atmospheric. The tension builds as the narrative continues and Marshall is not shy about describing some truly gruesome things that may be nightmare fuel for some.
A word of warning for those who like finite answers: as is typical with found footage horror, there are a lot of questions at the end of this book. Who requested the files in the first place? Who acquired them? What happened? The ending felt abrupt to me and I might have tossed my book on the floor... and then I remembered the comparison to The Blair Witch Project. (Which pissed me off so much when I first watched it that I threw my flip flop at my television.) And while I am still full of questions, I have to say that it is executed incredibly well - and Marshall does provide a few more bits of information beyond the guy-standing-in-the-corner inspired end scene so the reader can determine their own meaning.
Overall, Rules for Vanishing is a riveting page-turner perfect for October reading. It's more than just a paranormal horror read. Marshall's writing is tense and will keep you on the edge of your seat, the atmosphere and horrors creeping up on you while you are invested in the characters and their issues. I cannot recommend this book enough!
Content warnings: abuse (referenced), body horror, death, depictions of grief (including a very questionable parent response), hallucinations, loss of a loved one, suicide (referenced)
Representation: adoption, disability rep (Jeremy is deaf), lgbtqiap+ (lesbian and bisexual characters), racially diverse, stutter rep (Vanessa)
ARC sent to me by the publisher, Viking Books via Bookish First, in exchange for my honest review! Quotations are taken from an uncorrected proof and are subject to change upon final publication.