Monday, March 16, 2009

Review of How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found by Sara Nickerson

Sixth-grader Margaret's life has gone downhill since her father's death. Her mother spends entire days lying on the couch in front of the TV, her younger sister is obsessed with "The Hardest Jigsaw Ever Made," which she takes with her everywhere, and their "Family Fun Day" involves going to the laundramat and the grocery store. So the girls know something is up when their mother loads them into their pick-up truck one Sunday, drives them a long way to a broken-down mansion at the end of a lonely road, and then plants a "For Sale" sign on the lawn. Boyd lives next door to the mansion and is obsessed with a series of hand-drawn comic books by an author named Ratt. He finds the comics at the local library which isn't really a library at all: there's no catalog, all the books are hand-written, and there are no patrons except for Boyd, who comes every day to get the latest Ratt comic, which will have shown up on the doorstep during the night. This is one of only two books that I know of that incorporate graphic novel sections into the text. The other is The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, published in 2007. Margaret goes into the mansion when her mother isn't paying attention, and finds an unopened package addressed to her mother. It's marked Return to Sender, and Margaret takes it. When she opens it later, she finds a comic book, a swimming medal and a key to the old house. Margaret's father drowned, so when she finds out the championship swimming medal was his, she knows she has to find out what really happened to him. How could he have drowned if he was a championship swimmer? There are other mysteries, too. Who is in the old mansion and what is he trying to tell Boyd and Margaret? Is he trying to kill them or help them? He chases them out of the house, along with some growling, hairy monster they never really catch sight of, but he also leaves them pages from comics that chronicle whatever has just happened or is about to happen. This is a creepy mystery with lots of suspense.