CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number . . . .June 19, 2015
Thus, readers enter the complicated world inhabited by Kalah, Beth and Britney, the trio E.E. Cooper’s novel, Vanished, revolves around. The story is told by Kalah, who suffers from OCD and anxiety—partly due to genetic predisposition; partly due to what happened to her in her last school because she is also Indian. Early on, readers are told that Kalah is prone to drama and exaggeration, which makes her an unreliable narrator. In the past, it meant she was not believed when she tried to tell her family what was happening to her at school. This time round, it will have even more serious consequences. Like I said, it’s complicated. Consider yourself warned.
Kalah is a Junior at Northside High, while the two B’s (They called each other B, ostensibly because their first names both started with the letter, but in reality it was a way to jokingly call each other bitch) are Seniors. Beth and Britney have been best friends since Junior High, are hypercompetitive, and are on the school field hockey team. Britney is the captain of the team. Seniors don’t hang with Juniors, so, in spite of the fact Kalah is probably the best player on the team and membership has its privileges, when the two older girls invited her to join them for a frozen yogurt after a game, Kalah was surprised. When they then invited her to be part of their elite ‘group’, she was even more surprised. They are school celebrities, she is a nobody, but their status has rubbed off on her to some degree, and she’s thrilled with the new sense of place and increased self-confidence their friendship has brought her.
At home, neither of the Bs has a good situation. Britney is the offspring of two wealthy psychiatrists who, when they aren’t neglecting her completely, are controlling and treat her with disdain. Beth lives in a financially-strapped home with an alcoholic father and a mother who wishes it was Beth instead of her brother who had died six years earlier. Both situations are polar opposites to Kalah’s home life. She has two loving parents and a brother who is away at school, but stays in touch. So readers should not be surprised that the Bs have some relationship issues and Kalah finds herself as the mediator of the trio.
None of the girls is sexually naïve. Britney has a boyfriend, Jason, whom she’s been with for two years. However, when the book opens, their relationship is in some trouble, though Britney does not yet know it. Beth has had numerous conquests (commitment is not Beth’s thing, Britney says). Kalah also has a boyfriend. Zach is rock-steady; one of the good guys, Kalah says. They’ve been together for almost a year, and he’s in love with her. But when Beth begins to fall for her, Kalah responds, which complicates her life a lot.
Beth is Kalah’s first homosexual experience, and Kalah doesn’t know what she wants their relationship to become. She feels she should end it with Beth, but she can’t, and she doesn’t want to hurt Zach. The result is a lot of confusion and guilt.
That complication is minor, though, compared with what comes next. The day after the unexplained blow-up at Kalah’s house with Britney, Beth disappears. A week later, Britney leaves a suicide note and her purse on the beach, and her car in Lighthouse Park, and vanishes. A week after that, she’s declared dead.
Beth’s disappearance is not a complete surprise. At Kalah’s house the day before her 18th birthday, Beth and Kalah share secrets, and Kalah gives her an early birthday gift: two small charms that are tokens from Beth’s favorite book, Alice in Wonderland. Beth loves the charms and immediately puts them on a chain around her neck. But they spark another conversation in which Beth reveals she’s fed up with her life. She says she wants to disappear—leave all the mess behind and start over—and invites Kalah to come. Leaving is not in Kalah’s parameters. She tries to make light of it, reminds Beth she’ll be going away to college soon enough, and tells her to stay.
As a narrator with OCD and anxiety issues, Kalah fits with the archetypal unreliable narrator mode. She often does and says (or doesn’t say) things that make those she is trying to convince question her state of mind. That, and that she is also bisexual and Indian make Vanished a novel that crosses all kinds of borders and pushes boundaries. Those who want more diversity (#WeNeedDiverseBooks) will likely identify strongly with it. And the drama and angst are verifiable factors of how life plays out for many in high school.
That said, I like ambiguous endings, but even as the first in a trilogy, a novel needs to stand alone. By the end of Vanished, none of the holes in the logistics of the central mystery are filled in. (Would a coroner, the police, and even the parents of a dead girl miss the fact the body is…? Sorry, can’t tell you. It’s a spoiler.) For me, those holes caused a credibility gap that pushed me out of the story.
As well, too much is left to the reader’s imagination when it comes to the characters of both Britney and Beth. We’re told over and over they have a troubling relationship, but we don’t know anything about how it came to be so troubled. Kalah tells us, “They might go at each other, but if someone else went after one of them they would defend each other to the death.” Except for one small scene where we see Britney’s mother in action, we’re also told about the Bs’ home lives rather than shown, and so we really don’t know anything of how they came to be the people they are. And since this is a psychological thriller and they are central characters, that’s a pretty big hole.
Jocelyn Reekie is a writer and editor who lives in Campbell River, BC.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any
other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.