Synopses. Spoilers. Sarcasm.
This was easily my favourite book of the month and one of my favourite books of 2017! Melancholy, eerie, and mysterious, The Disappearances was a fast-paced supernatural novel full of loveable characters and more moments of heartbreak I cried at than I’d like to admit. Set in the 1940s, we follow Aila and her younger brother Miles after they are sent to live in the town their mother grew up in after their father gets drafted into the war. Every seven years, the town of Sterling experiences a ‘Disappearance’ – sometimes a sound, a smell, dreams, stars, or people. With the anniversary of a Disappearance coming up within the month, Aila and her foster family race to find counterweights for the curses they already know and prepare for the next thing to go missing. Shakespeare plays a surprisingly large role in the story, which was great for my Lit Major self, and the aspects of wartime accentuated the foreboding mood of the novel. I thought Aila was a sweet and determined character, the love interest was perfectly loveable, and the family themes of this book were heartwarming and extremely well written. I’d recommend this for fans of Ms.Peregrin’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, The Accident Season by Moria Doyle, or any fans of Holly Black and Neil Gaiman.
From the beginning, the mood of this novel was well set and incredibly addictive. I kept wondering what the past disappearances were, how they came to be, and if it was a curse or not. Having your reflection go missing is a terrifying thing to think about, and it’s equally as sad to think you might wake up one day and be unable to smell or draw with colour. I cried so hard at the Harvest Festival scene (which I also loved, it was so sweet to see the town coming together and deciding to celebrate something instead of let it ruin their month) when Beas is performing her violin solo and the music just stops being able to be played. Knowing how much that meant to her left me a sobbing mess at 12AM, as did the scene when Dr.Clifton brought music back with the nightingale feather. Imagining being able to hear something as influential and meaningful as music after being surrounded by silence for so long was such a beautiful moment to experience – and I wasn’t even there! Murphy is fantastic at making you feel things for these characters and experience their loss and gain over these simple senses you ignore every day.
Aila was a great character. She was resourceful and driven, as well as being relatable enough to make her loveable to me, like her anxiety over the Stars tournament or trying to raise her little brother. You could feel her excitement when she’s reading the volume of Shakespeare and finding all the clues to the old Disappearances, and I loved how old literature was involved in the story not only through the Shakespeare clues but also through her own love of reading. Since this is set in the 40s, the restrictions of social class and gender were present but didn’t hold her back. I wish we could have dived deeper into the 1940s setting of the book, but I still loved what I did read. The ‘ball’ at the Cliftons where she dresses up int he blue gown and kisses Will for the first time was a lovely scene, but I don’t think I cried as hard as when she says she couldn’t hear Will’s voice after he gave her the Finnish ‘finishing’ word. Wait, no – I cried harder when Will tells her he can’t hear her either. That was the best. I ship it HARDCORE.
Another thing I loved in this book was the execution on the themes of family. We only see the mother from flashbacks and hearsay, and Aila and Miles’ father is only seen through the letters he sends them. While the Cliftons begin as their foster family, they ultimately become Aila’s family, and the generosity and love that the Cliftons give the children is wonderful and sweet. Buying them Christmas gifts, helping them with school, baking their favourite foods… I love Mrs.Clifton as a mother figure and Dr.Clifton as the professor-ly father. Even Will becomes a part of the family (ergo as the hot boy down the hall) and I like how he is described imperfect, with his crooked teeth and short hair. His care towards Aila makes him easy to fall in love with, from sneaking her out at night to defending her at school to making her that lovely box in Finnish. Miles was a character I LOVED, as he is so well rounded and acts exactly as a child does. Some of his behaviours make me think he was slightly autistic, and I wonder if Murphy did that on purpose. He was a little brother you wanted to take care of and hug, and Aila is so patient and loving with him. Exchanging his tooth when it falls out, drawing the heart on his arm, forgiving him for taking her necklace… the blood bond between them was lovely to read.
I was highly anticipating this book and it did not disappoint. The ending was intense and fast-paced, the romance was adorable, and the curse aspect was beautifully written and different enough that I can say I’ve never read anything like it. I give this a 5/5 and will definitely read anything else Murphy publishes.