Monday, June 18, 2018

Review: The Night She Disappeared, by April Henry

This fast-paced young adult thriller is much more interested in the human emotion than shocks and scares. It's also more mature than your typical, but in the end it does fall into the usual traps of a YA novel. But everything feels real and genuine. April Henry doesn't obviously try to tug on our heart strings. Her characters have thoughts and feelings that anybody might go through in their situation, and that's what makes this worth reading.

The pretty, popular girl at high school, Kayla, was out delivering a pizza and never returned. Police later found her car and the scene of what looked like a struggle. Kayla's missing, assumed dead. Drew was also working at the pizza place the night she disappeared, and he feels guilty because he was the one who took the man's order. The man asked if the girl who drove the Mini-Cooper would be delivering. That would be Gabie, a more vulnerable sort of girl than Kayla. She also feels guilty because Kayla asked to change shifts with her. Kayla was not supposed to work that night - Gabie was. And in their mutual feelings of guilt, Drew and Gabie understandably begin to develop a bond.

In my own classroom, April Henry's books have become a hit. I've collected several due to popular demand, and I understand why. Though many of my students struggle with books that use multiple perspectives, April Henry makes it easy. And she uses many, many perspectives. At least four are from the first person point of view, and there's another one or two from the third person, as well as the many police reports, 911 transcripts, and other miscellaneous writings. But what April Henry does is stick to a chronological timeline. When the book switches from Drew to Gabie back to Drew again, it follows chronological order. Drew and Gabie might have different viewpoints on something happening, but we don't see that event happen again from their point of view.

Drew and Gabie also happen to be likeably vulnerable. Drew comes from a single mom household, and his mom is a drug addict, while Gabie comes from a much wealthier household, but the fact that both of her parents are surgeons only means she's often left home alone. Both characters are lonely, but not sulky. Their vulnerabilities also cause moments of miscommunication. Of course, an attraction forms between them, but their lack of experience in romance leaves them unaware of the other's feelings. This sounds typical of a romance, especially YA romance, but somehow Henry handles it with more wisdom and realism than other authors do.

You can probably predict how the story ends, it's true, but you might just enjoy how it gets there. This is a story you can probably finish in an afternoon or less, but in that brief time you read it you will find it thoughtful and surprisingly well-researched. In the interview at the end, April Henry says she hopes her readers will learn something from it. I did. I learned a lot about what it's like to dive for bodies in rivers. That chapter may not have contributed much to the plot, but it does add to the realism and plausibility of the story. And it is a very good story, it turns out.

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