Brubaker’s Bookshelf

Lauren Oliver presents the least thrilling psychological thriller ever written: Vanishing Girls. A promising premise of kidnapping and horror gives way to a disappointingly tame and frustratingly predictable story. It’s obvious that Vanishing Girls is the first psychological thriller that Delirium author Lauren Oliver has written, and it should probably be her last.

Vanishing Girls follows two teenage sisters, Dara and Nick, who couldn’t be more different. After a car accident that leaves Dara with scars obscuring her face, tensions get high between the sisters, as their once disturbingly close relationship crumbles. There’s some mystery thrown into the mix when Dara disappears under suspicious circumstances, and Nick makes it her mission to find her. Nick thinks that Dara’s disappearance could be linked to that of a local child, Madeleine Snow.

Vanishing Girls hinges too much on its ending, which is supposed to be explosive and wholly original, but falls flat. The supposedly giant plot twist has already been done, especially as of late in other books. It’s described as a psychological  thriller, which in and of itself is a spoiler. The first 80 percent of the novel has a too-heavy focus on the dynamic between the two sisters, rather than the psychological components.

At the end, when the alleged psychological part comes into play, it feels out of place and ultimately underwhelming. I had guessed the major plot twist by page 30, simply because it’s so commonly done. It feels like Oliver knew what was supposed to be in a psychological thriller and tried to copy those elements.

Everything is much too neat. The phrasing and interpretations of the mystery by other characters are unrealistically convenient in order to keep it alive. Realistically, the mystery would have been solved in a week—the book makes it last an entire summer. There are times when characters deserve to be slapped for their blatant lack of observational skills.

Not all elements of the story are unsuccessful. Oliver executes the relationship between Nick and Dara flawlessly. Their unhealthy relationship is a twisted mess of pride and worship, tangled with jealousy and deeply-rooted resentment. The freaky, almost toxic codependency and love-borderline-hate between the sisters is portrayed with the grit and honesty required to make it successful. Their relationship is really the core of what Vanishing Girls is all about. Oliver expertly explores how the dichotomy of pretty vs. smart causes a dangerous bitterness that can lead to permanent psychological damage.

Oliver’s writing is addictive and easy to read. It isn’t particularly quotable, and can become kitschy and irritatingly clichéd at times, but overall it’s functional and works well within the bounds of her story. I applaud her ability to accurately write using a teenage voice, which is something many adult writers struggle to do. Her writing isn’t particularly sophisticated, but the reality is that most teenagers don’t think using an SAT vocabulary.

The plot twist may be predictable, and the mystery poorly executed, but some of the characters’ interactions are legitimately entertaining. A valiant effort, but next time, Oliver should probably try something new.

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