Rules for Vanishing - Kate Alice Marshall - Book Review
A book review of Kate Alice Marshall' 2019 horror YA novel Rules for Vanishing.
Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall is that supernatural road trip with your high school friends that you never had. Students at Sara’s school receive a mass phone text asking them to play Lucy’s game - to go down the legendary road which opens up one night a year and search for the ghost of Lucy Gallows. No one knows if the road even exists or if the journey down the road is safe. Sara is going to go down the road to look for her sister Becca, who everyone says ran away from home, but Sara knows she’s somewhere on the road. Her friends join her on her journey as well - some because they care about Sara and Becca and some because it sounds like a good lark. Will they find Becca and more importantly, will they survive the road?
As mentioned above it’s essentially a road trip with a supernatural adventure. I would say with a 90% guarantee that it’s a standalone novel. I didn’t detect a cliff hanger ending that heralded a sequel. But of course one never knows.
I remember reading in the official summary about a ‘vengeful ghost’ and ‘Blair Witch Project’ feel to the novel. Both terms are slightly misleading. It’s not found footage narrative, the story is divided into multiple format narratives. It’s quite interesting and kept me reading onward.
I was also not entirely convinced by the Lucy Gallows game - I understand the kids have to go down the road, overcome obstacles, and find Lucy’s ghost. What I don’t understand is what the kids are going to get out of it - is it some kind of prize? I mean, kids are willy creatures and I cannot imagine any kid wanting to leave the comfort of their bed and go on a ghost hunt with no potential reward. This is where I find the term ‘vengeful ghost’ misleading. I assume that only we, as the readers are supposed to know that the ghost has ill intentions. But that made me wonder even more why any kid would want to do this. If I was a kid, I would be kind of insulted - it’s implied that kids are uniformly stupid and do stupid things for next to no reason.
I was also disconcerted by how baldly certain characters make bold or jaw-dropping statements. In certain important characters who needed it, there is no sense of discovery or a sense of coming of age. I am assuming these characters are 15 or 16 years old and at that age, there are a lot of things you are still discovering about yourself and the world. And another character has done something terrible, and the information is sprung upon the reader with no solid background leading up to that revelation. We are told twice that this person has done something shady, and that’s all.
I am open to any novel genre but with fantasy; it isn’t rooted in some kind of reality; I do not enjoy it. This novel’s fantasy had me scrambling in my mind, searching for some reference. I am not doubting the power and creativity of the fantasy - it’s great! It just really needed a foundation for it. There is also a weird blending of the genre - it crosses into supernatural and sci-fi and back to the supernatural with not much rhyme or reason. I believe this is because Kate Alice Marshall tried to do too many new things in this book.
Maybe it’s just for me, but only the first scare caught me off guard and I enjoyed it. The rest of the scare scenes were so so.
The first positives of this novel are its fresh concept. It does not seem inspired by another story or a rehash/re-imagining of previously published works. The story narrative told from the character’s point of view during the journey too is masterful. There were moments where I felt wrong-footed and I felt maybe I missed something major or that I was finally going senile. But it was entirely deliberate, and we find out later why. The only other stories I’ve read which have excellent unreliable narrator is The Girl on the Train and The Memory Lights, but the unreliable narrator in this story is unique. As a novel, this story leaves a lot to be desired - but as a movie, it could work out better and possibly fill the plot holes.
1. the story just like the author’s summary is incoherent. All the elements for a wonderful story are there. The story however would have greatly benefited from more polish and shine.
2. The characters are very realistic but I didn’t necessarily care about them.
3. The story reads like a video game - things just happen or appear a certain way - and there’s no real explanation for that.
1. Excellent world-building. Though I’m not surprised because the author is a video game designer in real life, so she would ace it.
2. The story is based on an actual existing legend that I’ve never heard before.
3. The narrative style is incredible! There are times when you think either you’ve missed something major or you’re going crazy - but you’re not!
4. The story is pretty inclusive - about ethnicity, disability, and gender.
5. The pace of the story is good too - just when you think that things are about lag, the situation is spiced up by new revelations.
All in all, a fun horror/thriller - quite the page-turner when you’re reading it. A week after, however, I didn’t think about this book again and I did not learn any life-altering lesson, but I enjoyed the ride. I can’t think of other books I’ve read, which I can say are like this novel. I can however think of similar movies. Book readers who are also fans of House on Haunted Hill and Final Destination will like it. I would have enjoyed the book much better if the character’s depth and background had been better explored and if the fantasy had been more realistic. Would I go back and read it again? Entirely unsure at this point.