Sunday, April 11, 2021

How to Disappear Completely, by Ali Standish

Life could always be lonely for Emma, so she cherished the time she spent with her grandmother.  Gram filled Emma's world with stories of fairies, gnomes, and forest spirits.  They even had a special place in the forest that they would visit -- the Spinney -- where Gram's stories took place.  And they shared Gram's favorite children's book, the R. M. Wildsmith's The World at the End of the Tunnel.  So when Gram dies, Emma is devastated.  All the magic she once felt all around her has vanished and she is inconsolably lonely.

Without friends of her own, starting seventh grade would be hard enough.  But it is made more difficult when Emma discovers white patches developing on her dark skin.  She is developing vitiligo, an autoimmune disorder that causes a loss of pigmentation in the skin.  Self-conscious about how the blotches on her skin makes her look to others, Emma wishes now more than ever that Gram was still around.  She would know how to deal with this!  But working with what she has left (a supportive family and some classmates who want to be friends regardless of what she looks like), Emma learns how to make her own magic.  Along the way, she also makes an important discovery about her family history which helps her come to terms with her grandmother's passing.

A subtle, slowly paced, but ultimately immensely satisfying book about the bonds of family, the rewards of trusting others, the importance of kindness, and the healing magic of a creative mind.  It is a hard book to start (I nearly tossed it during the first hundred pages because I found it dull), but I had a sense that the book would reward me in the end and it did!  It's hard to pin that success on any one factor.  Emma is a sweet and clever protagonist with a kind heart.  The story introduces important lessons about friendships (both good and toxic).  Emma's ability to resist the desire to strike back, while setting limits for what she will accept is great modeling for young readers navigating their own relationships.  Emma also has a similarly keen ability to sort out the fascinating mystery that unfolds.  But in the end, what makes this book enjoyable is the overall positive message that everyone has problems with which they are dealing and that the best approach is always sympathy.

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