A Scaredy-Cat Reviews: Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall
GENRE: YA Horror LENGTH: 402 pages
Sara lives in a small town where there is a legend of a girl named Lucy who disappeared in the woods. The legend goes that if you follow the mystical road through the woods you can find her at the end. Sara's sister walked the road and never returned. Now, Sara and a group of estranged friends are going after her.
The protagonist, Sara, has a very loving relationship with her elder sister Becca. They are quite close in age and Sara grew up admiring Becca and wanting to be just like her. I really related to Sara in this regard and adored the sisterhood aspect of this story.
There are quite a few other characters who walk the road who are friends of Sara and Becca including: Trina and her brother Kyle, Jeremy, Vanessa, Mel, and Anthony. There is quite a bit of representation amongst the main cast. Jeremy is hard of hearing and wears hearing aides. Mel is black and lesbian. Vanessa has a stutter. Sara is bisexual and Becca is both adopted and Asian.
Representation like this was so important and for the most part it was well done. My one complaint, as the close relative of someone who was adopted, was that I didn't like how the author mentioned early on that the parents treated them differently. This was not something that ever happened in my family and I don't appreciate the implied message.
There were simply too many characters for anyone other than a few to standout much. They had engaging group dynamics but it took me quite a while to remember who each one was and I didn't honestly care about all of them.
The novel is told through Sara's first person perspective though Sara is an unreliable narrator (more on that in the next section). We later learn that it is written in first person because within the world of the story it functions as Sara's written account of the events of the road. This was such a cool reveal to me as a writer myself.
The first person chapters are interspersed with mixed media elements such as cell phone recordings and interviews, etc. It's no secret that I'm a sucker for mixed media elements in books and I think it works well here. I believe the author was going for a found footage feel as such has become popular in horror films.
The novel had solid pacing. The one thing readers may not like (it will really depend on your tastes) is that the ending is rather abrupt and open ended. It leaves the fates of the characters and the world itself up in the air. I normally hate this sort of thing if it's not intended to lead into a direct sequel. I think it worked here, though. Of course, I'd love to have all the answers, but I don't think this is the kind of story that was ever going to have a neat ending.
WORLD BUILDING/SCARE FACTOR
The horror elements of this story come in the form of grotesque monsters, body horror, and the highlight, psychological manipulation. Any one of those things wold suffice to freak me out. The descriptions of the monsters made me have to put the book down for a little while because they felt like they had crawled out of my nightmares. Additionally, body horror has always freaked me out. The way the road alters reality and memory, though, makes it most terrifying because it means you can't trust yourself or your partners. There is always this question if what you're perceiving is true and if everyone is really who they say they are. If it hadn't had this element and had relied solely on the monsters and body horror it would have been scary but also lacked a lot of tension that served to elevate it. Weeks later there are still scenes I can picture all too vividly in my mind and to me that solidifies it as a great horror book.
I have always been drawn to spooky and scary things but have also avoided them due to my anxiety and frequent nightmares. I finally decided to bite the bullet and read a full on horror book, though, and I'm glad I did. It was exactly what I expected in that it sated that desire to read something genuinely scary. It's definitely not something I read when I was alone or right before going to bed. The writing is evocative and imaginative. I wasn't aware going into the book that there was a mixed media element so that was a fun discovery. The characters had a lot of potential but I just wish there hadn't been quite so many because you do lose the ability to properly give them all page time and development. I probably won't read a horror book again anytime soon, but never say never.
FINAL RATING: 4 ⭐️