Jul 16, 2012
Title: The Vanishing Game
Author: Kate Kae Myers
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publication Date: February 14, 2012
Seventeen-year-old Jocelyn follows clues apparently from her dead twin, Jack, in and around Seale House, the terrifying foster home where they once lived. With help from childhood friend Noah she begins to uncover the truth about Jack’s death and the company that employed him and Noah.
Jocelyn’s twin brother Jack was the only family she had growing up in a world of foster homes-and now he’s dead, and she has nothing. Then she gets a cryptic letter from “Jason December”-the code name her brother used to use when they were children at Seale House, a terrifying foster home that they believed had dark powers. Only one other person knows about Jason December: Noah, Jocelyn’s childhood crush and their only real friend among the troubled children at Seale House.
But when Jocelyn returns to Seale House and the city where she last saw Noah, she gets more than she bargained for. Turns out the house’s powers weren’t just a figment of a childish imagination. And someone is following Jocelyn. Is Jack still alive? And if he is, what kind of trouble is he in? The answer is revealed in a shocking twist that turns this story on its head and will send readers straight back to page 1 to read the book in a whole new light.
I had really mixed feelings about this book so I want to say right upfront that there was a lot about THE VANISHING GAME that I really enjoyed. There was also a lot that I disliked. To say this book is “good” or “bad” or even a middling “mediocre” I think would be doing the book a disservice. I think that will mostly come down to personal opinion (obviously) and reader expectations. I’ll expand on what I mean by this later in the least spoiler-y way I possibly can.
First off, I loved the premise of this book. Weird things happening in a weird house? Dead brother in unusual circumstances? A sketchy company with harmful secrets? Yes please, sign me up.
This is the kind of book that could be legitimately scary, and for the first little bit, it was. Seale House is creepy; unexplained phenomena, weird kids, a crazy foster mother. I love books that aren’t exactly paranormal, but use supernatural elements that remain unexplained by the end of the book for maximum creep-factor. Unfortunately, this ended up being the first slip up in THE VANISHING GAME for me.
I wish SO BADLY that THE VANISHING GAME had focused more on Seale House. The first few chapters has Jocelyn right in the Seale House and dealing with a whole bunch of crazy things. I flew through the first few chapters because I loved the mystery and action surrounding the house. Really, the writing is pretty good and the author knows how to keep readers on the edge of their seats.
But then. Oh, but then the book moved away from Seale House. Why? WHY?
Jocelyn believes her brother, Jack, dies in a car crash, until she gets a mysterious letter from him that sends her back to their old foster home Seale House to discover the truth about what happened to Jack. Jocelyn figures Jack’s disappearance has something to do with the computer programming company he works with (I can’t remember the company’s name and I don’t have the book on me anymore . . . forgive me).
I didn’t understand why the computer company story line was necessary. The mystery with Seale House and the mystery with the computer company felt like two different stories. Even in the end they didn’t really come together in a satisfactory way for me. Mainly this is because Seale House has all these supernatural elements to it, but the computer company story line is more of a straight up thriller/mystery/action story. They don’t work together.
But, okay, I can forgive that. Jocelyn’s paranoia brought on by Seale House certainly carries over to her paranoia about the computer company, which makes that story line sufficiently creepy too.
So what’s the biggest problem I had with this book? The one that makes me go from, “Yes, this book is fantastic! What an awesome mystery!” to “Ehh, I have no idea how to feel about this book”?
Technical execution–the writing. I did just previously say that the writing was pretty good, but by that I meant that the words flowed, there was a compulsive readability to it. But that’s not what I’m talking about now. I’m talking about how the author interwove backstory and important plot points.
There was a lot of “As You Know, Bob” moments. That’s when the author tries to explain backstory within dialogue, except then the characters end up talking about things they should already know and therefore, logically, should not be talking about. When Jocelyn goes back to the city of her old foster home, Seale House, she meets up with Noah for the first time in five years. Noah, aside from her brother Jack, was Jocelyn’s best friend at Seale House. When they first meet each other again in the book, they’re constantly talking about things that happened at Seale House in incredibly awkward ways. Unfortunately, I don’t have the book with me anymore, but these conversations would go something like, “And then this weird thing happened, remember? And then we did such and such, remember?” It didn’t sound like natural dialogue.
But okay, that wasn’t even the biggest problem. The biggest problem was that the characters would *quite suddenly* recall something from their past, and then suddenly that memory would serve an immediate purpose in the story. There would be no build up to it. No hint. So these memories would feel like awkward and unnatural plot devices. The twists were good and some I didn’t see coming, but some twists were well developed and some weren’t.
So that was my biggest problem with the book. Technical execution of the mystery. Something that maybe a lot of people wouldn’t even notice or care about. But I did. Honestly, I’m harshest on writing than anything else. And when I say I’m harsh on writing, I mean I’m REALLY harsh on writing. Almost to an unreasonable extent. (I’m sure this is a product of me being a writer and blah blah blah). THE VANISHING GAME had a lot of potential. The premise and plot were good. The author has a lot of talent. But I just think she needed to take a little more time to hone that talent.
Now, at the beginning of my review, I mentioned something about reader expectations and how I would try not to be spoiler-y. I don’t think I’m being spoiler-y when I say that the description of this book put a lot of emphasis on the ending and how it would make the reader see the book in a whole new light.
Non-spoiler-y take on the ending:
There were some elements of the ending I hated, some elements of the ending I loved, and some I guessed from a mile away. You’re either going to love it or hate it. There is no in between.
Slightly-but-not-really-spoiler-y take on the ending (read the next paragraph at your own risk):
When I talk about reader expectations in relation to how I view the ending, I mean whether you see the book as more supernatural or more straight up thriller/mystery. Things all get wrapped up neatly, of course, but I didn’t like that the mystery around Seale House also gets wrapped up. Or rather, I don’t like HOW it gets wrapped up. It was such a throw away explanation that just made me go, “What . . . really? That’s what you’re giving me? Really?” (A few mysteries about Jocelyn come out . . . half is pretty cool, half is stupidly stupid. I can’t go into any more detail about that for fear of actually spoiling stuff).
And here ends the slightly-but-not-really-spoiler-y stuff.
Okay! Now that I’ve gotten all those thoughts out of the way, I’m just going to list some other random thoughts I had while reading the book:
I didn’t think the depiction of foster care was particularly . . . accurate. But what do I know? Add to that, how Jocelyn and Jack got to be in Seale House was weird. Like, it didn’t seem to go through very official routes, you know? But again, what do I know?
They kept going on about how horrible Seale House and their foster mother was, and how it was so hard to escape the house. Yet in the flashbacks, they seemed to leave the house an awful lot. Why didn’t they run away sooner? Yeah, the foster mother had her moments, but it was more the kids that were horrible.
It was a pet peeve of mine whenever Jocelyn/the other characters referred to the foster mother “using her marijuana.” Really? “Using her marijuana”? I mean, I’m barely out of my teens and I’m pretty confident no one talks like that. It sounds like an adult trying to talk like a teenager. Every time they said that, I wanted to yell at the book, “No! She’s smoking pot! That’s what she’s doing!” (Also, I find it hard to believe that every single one of the foster kids resented the foster mother for smoking pot. Oh, sorry, for “using her marijuana.” Really? Not one of these kids tried to sneak some from her?)
The puzzles were awesome. At times it felt kind of kiddish and didn’t fit with the creepy vibe of the story, but at the same time, the puzzles are more of a throw back to Jocelyn, Jack, and Noah’s childhoods, so. Fits.
Noah wasn’t bad and I didn’t mind him as a love interest. Except he nearly chokes and kills Jocelyn in the first chapter which was off-putting at the least.
I liked the kids at Seale House–Corner Boy, George, the girl with the knife, the little boy who’s always scared (sorry, I can’t remember their names). They added to the creepiness of Seale House.
Again, I loved the blur of the real and not-real, and I loved parts of how it came together in the end.
Overall, I did enjoy THE VANISHING GAME and I would really love to read more books like this. Despite some flaws, THE VANISHING GAME was a great mystery and I would recommend it if you like mysteries and puzzles. I for one will be looking for what else Myers writes. She’s got talent and I’d like to see what else she can do.