Sometimes gripping, sometimes slow and always a tad bit confusing. Still not entirely sure how I feel about it, but credit where credit is due that I am still thinking about it two weeks later.
Touted as a ‘coming of age’ story and classified in some places as mystery, a more apt description might be a ‘finding and battling your demons after childhood trauma’. Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance, of which the title started my confusion that never abated, is Sally Holt’s story of loving and losing her older sister at the horribly painful time that is Junior High School.
As to why the title is confusing. I went into this story thinking the disappearance of her sister Kathy would be exactly that – a sudden disappearance – and that the inappropriately named disappearance would be more of a focus. While her loss of Kathy is technically the crux of the story, it is far from what I expected.
The structure of this book is from Sally’s point of view, told almost as though it were journal entries from before, immediately after and beyond the time of Kathy’s “disappearance”. You get to know the girls’ shared crush, Billy Barnes, and feel young Sally’s mix of happiness and agony when her beloved older sister and the illustrious Billy become an item. You feel a stab of discomfort mixed with joy when Sally and Billy become each other’s secret support as the young people navigate how to mourn a lost loved one at a young age. And you want to scream at both of them, particularly the entitled Sally, when they do things that follow no logical path. Part of this desire to scream draws from the age old wisdom of hindsight (because we all know teenagers do very illogical things) but also from some choices made in the paths of the story that just don’t quite jive.
About 25% into this book I did not enjoy it; I was confused because I didn’t understand where it was supposed to be going, and the story itself was progressing slowly. Shortly after though, it picks up, only to slog again. This cycle repeats throughout, but somehow it works – the upticks happen just in time to keep you coming back after thinking it’s time to throw in the towel. By the end, you are invested, though still kind of mind boggled and still not entirely sure where you are or how you got there.
One item of note with this being audio, is that some of the confusion likely stemmed from the audio – this one does not rate especially high on my list of recent narrations. Jesse Vilinsky does a passable job at distinguishing characters, but the overall tone is pretty lifeless. Given the story, I do wonder if there was some intent here, wanting to portray the drama as more droll and matter of fact. Whether intentional or not, it also ended up making me think in multiple directions. In some cases, the flat lack of emotion actually worked well, but crushed the soul of places that begged for more emotion.
At the end of the day, it has taken me nearly two weeks to even piece together coherent thoughts on Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance. The day after I finished, I was entranced and wanted more (in part because the ending was extremely disappointing after all that slog). A day later, the frustration took over and I really did not know if I had even liked it at all. To be honest, I still don’t know. Regardless of where I end up though, I will give solid credit to an author and story that is still holding my thoughts. Even if I end up deciding I outright disliked this book, it was worth the read for the pondering it has forced upon me.
Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance
By Alison Espach
Read by Jesse Vilinsky
Publication: May 17, 2022
Thank you to Macmillan Audio and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.