I received a copy from Netgalley.
This book was brilliant. So delightfully different and unexpected. I’d completely forgotten what it was about when I started reading it. It’s an early 1940’s based YA novel, set sometime during the Second World War. Beautifully written and really really unique, the way the fantasy is woven together could almost boarder on magical realism.
The novel tells the story of Aila and her brother Miles, their mother has died and their father is a pilot who has gone to fight in the war. With no other close relatives, the two are shipped off to the small town of Sterling, where their mother grew up and move in with a dear friend of their mom’s, Matilda Cliffton. Her household consists of her husband, Dr Clifton, their son William who is Aila’s age, and a housekeeper named Genevieve. The Clifftons are very nice if formal and clearly wealthy.
Though Aila notices something strange immediately, whilst going through the small town centre, they pass people well known to Mrs Cliffton, give them the cold shoulder. They’re polite, but very frosty and it all seems to do with the fact that Aila’s mom left the town.
In the house Aila notices more strange things and finds out a phenomenon occurs every year something “Disappears”, touch, dreams, reflections. No one really knows how they started, but there are magical remedies called Variants that can recreate these lost things. Aila struggles to make sense of this mystery, at the same time fitting in in a new school and trying to make friends.
All the while there is the underlying hint that her mother may have had something to do with starting The Disappearances. Aila’s mother seems to be the only person who has ever left Sterling and regained the things the Disappearances have taken. Which has caused a great mistrust and dislike amongst the townspeople.
As Aila makes friends and gets to know the people in her class, she learns more about the history of the town and the founding families and the other interconnecting towns in the area. Early in the novel Aila discovers a book of Shakespeare’s works that has notes written by her mother. The Shakespeare connection is brilliant. It’s woven beautifully into the narrative without being too overwhelming.
There’s also a second point of view in alternate chapters from a mysterious man who appears to be looking for his father. It’s not all together clear (or at least not for this reader) of whether this is something happening at the time or something that happened in the past. It all becomes relevant later on in the novel.
The writing is gorgeous and almost lyrical in its tone, it’s completely absorbing and everything is so incredibly described and so so easy to picture. Incredible history and backstory believable as well. Aila was a very likeable, intelligent lead, head on her shoulders, with some recklessness, a good friend and good sister to her little brother Miles. All the characters are brilliant, all fully fleshed out from the good ones to the nasty ones. There’s a great sense of family as well, the adults are not just side characters, they have their own importance in the novel and not just relegated to necessary background characters.
There was nothing about this book that didn’t absolutely love to pieces. I am definitely looking forward to more from this author.
Thank you to Netgalley and HMH Books for Young Readers for approving my request to view the title.