The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy

A town where qualities disappear every seven years is the setting for The Disappearances, a clean, thought-provoking teen mystery.

The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017, 385 pages

Reading Level: Teen, ages 12-15

Recommended for: ages 12-up

Aila Quinn knows only one thing about Sterling: it’s her mother’s home town.  And it’s her new residence, even though she’s never been there, even for a visit.  Since Mother’s untimely death from cancer, and Father’s induction into military service post-Pearl Harbor, the only family willing and able to to take in Aila and her 12-year-old brother Miles are the Cliftons. Mrs. Clifton was Julia’s Quinn’s closest friend, but Aila soon realizes that her mother didn’t have that many friends in Sterling.  In fact, some of the inhabitants seem downright hostile.  It doesn’t take long for the Quinns to notice other odd circumstances:  Why are there no mirrors in the Clifton house?  And why do flowers have no scent?  The truth is strange and inexplicable: every seven years in Sterling, something disappears from the town.  Not a material object, but a quality of the sort we usually take for granted.

Once a common human ability disappears, the town scientists go to work finding a “variant” that will counteract the effect, if temporarily.  At least one character catches on to the implications: “If people will pay money for a temporary improvement to the physical world–even something as fleeting and insignificant as a scent–how much would they pay for something that goes infinitely deeper than that?”  What if virtues like courage and determination could be captured and sold?

The Disappearances poses an intriguing concept that raises interesting questions and ideas.  What do we have that we don’t appreciate?  The resolution is not entirely satisfactory, as if the author is intrigued by the concept but can’t quite explain it.  Also, though the story takes place in 1942, with the US on full war footing, the War only gets an occasional mention and there’s not much of a period sense in manners and slang.  But the language and content is clean, the characters are appealing, and the story should help readers appreciate the everyday blessings of life on earth.

Cautions: Sensuality (two kisses!), Language (two instances of mild profanity)

Overall Rating: 4 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/Moral value: 3.5
  • Artistic value: 4.5

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Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

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