Maggie continued through the kitchen into the living room, which looked out across a crumbling deck toward the blue shimmer of the lake. Turning left toward another open archway, she walked through a web that she had to pick out of her mouth, then moved on down the hall to the stairs. She laid her hand on the wobbly banister and creeped her way up to the second floor. To her left, she found what she instantly knew would be her room: a nook with a slanted ceiling and a large window that looked out on the grass and across it toward the white house, with a small, yellowing radiator against one wall. The cozy space felt like a hideaway from the world, and smelled like trapped summer air, flowery and dusty. It made her think of the Dashwoods in Sense and Sensibility, downgrading to a cottage by the sea. She could make the best of it, like they had. And if life ended up being as underwhelming here as she expected, well, it was only a year anyway. Then graduation. Then real life.
–The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson
The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson
The Vanishing Season is a novel about a girl named Maggie who moves during her Senior year in high school to a small town named Gill Creek in Door County, Wisconsin after her mother loses her job in Chicago. Maggie is not optimistic about the move and is concerned about her parents’ financial situation, but she quickly feels at home in the big, beautiful Victorian home that she and her parents are fixing up, and she makes friends with a boy and a girl on her street – the beautiful but child-like Pauline, and the quiet, honorable Liam. When high school girls start disappearing in Door County and end up dead in the river, the peace of the small town is disrupted as everyone tries to figure out who among them might be the killer.
There is so much to the setting that it is almost difficult to summarize – the small town and the gossip that spreads like wildfire, the tension that builds as girls end up dead, the strange isolation of Water Street where Maggie, Pauline, and Liam live. The author gives us a great sense of space throughout the novel – Maggie often describes what she can and cannot see through her bedroom window, Pauline’s steps up to Maggie’s front door are traced with great detail towards the end of the novel, and the path to Liam’s construction project is often described. Even the distance to and from town is identified. I loved this book’s ability to drop me into a place that absolutely feels real.
This book is definitely character-driven, and the author did a stunning job of creating complex and realistic characters. Maggie is incredibly relatible – she is soft-spoken, she likes to read, and she spends most of her life observing those around her, but she still has internal motivations, and shows great depth of emotion even if she doesn’t always express her feelings aloud. Maggie loves her homeschooling, and is highly motivated to have a successful future. Pauline in particular breaks stereotypes in a refreshing way – she is beautiful but silly and sometimes awkward, she is often oblivious to the feelings of those around her but still is not intentionally cruel, and she cares deeply about her friends and family. Even Liam, the most one-dimensional of the friends, still is interesting and realistic. He has nursed feelings for Pauline since they were children and is incessantly kind to everyone, but he still resists her bad treatment and is willing to stand up for himself when he needs to.
Surprisingly enough, I really enjoyed the love triangle between Maggie, Liam, and Pauline, and that plot line held my attention. However, I kept expecting the murders to become more significant, and was disappointed at how they just seemed to hang out in the background. In fact, the murders in Door County just seemed to feel more like an element of the setting rather than a plot line itself. I’m not quite sure whether the author was aiming for an element of realism (most people do not in fact hunt down murderers in their area), got caught up in one plot line and decided not to pursue some of the others after all, or if perhaps she was trying to draw a wider audience by staging the novel like a murder mystery, but it felt like a loaded gun that never went off. The novel just felt somewhat unresolved by the end.
In all, I would rate The Vanishing Season a 7 out of 10. There’s a little bit in this book for everyone – romance, drama, mystery, and a little fantasy, with the ghost that narrates a good deal of the plot. However, there were a few too many places where the plot seemed to get hung up on itself, so while everyone will enjoy this some, I wish there had been a little more of everything.