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A teacher's opinions on YA literature and the state of public education in America.

The Night She Disappeared by April Henry

Have you ever pondered the power of one moment? Ever looked back on what you perceived as an inconvenience—missing the subway, taking a wrong turn, losing your seat on a flight—and wondered if it somehow altered the course of your life? 

It was a Wednesday night, a night when Gabie usually delivered for Pete’s Pizza. On this day, however, she had switched shifts with Kayla. So, it was Kayla who delivered the three pizzas to a fake address on some dark and isolated highway. But the man who placed the order had asked for the girl in the Mini Cooper—Gabie’s car. If she hadn’t have switched shifts, it would have been her whose DNA was all that was left behind on that riverbank in Oregon.
The knowledge of this detail haunts Gabie throughout the two weeks after Kayla goes missing. The man who targeted her could come back for her at any time. Living in constant fear and guilt, Gabie continues working at Pete’s Pizza just to keep busy, and she finds an ally and best friend in her coworker Drew, the quiet and misunderstood boy who occasionally sold a joint out the restaurant before Kayla’s disappearance. They find that they have more in common than they realized, and if it wasn’t for the extenuating circumstances which had forced them into companionship, they might have become friends anyway.Gabie and Drew constantly go over the details of that Wednesday night and try to recall something—anything—they might have missed. Somewhere in that process two things happen: 1.) Gabie sees Kayla in her dreams and knows she isn’t dead, and 2.) Gabie falls for Drew, whether out of conditional accident or genuine attraction, she can’t tell at first. There really is no time to find out who they are outside of Kayla’s disappearance because the more time they spend together, the more they think of her. When the rest of the town considers Kayla to be dead—at the hands of a local meth addict whose truck was seen in the vicinity of her disappearance—Gabie continues to insist that the police haven’t caught the real perpetrator yet.

Finally, at Kayla’s “funeral” an officer confronts Gabi with an ultimatum: either stop insisting that Kayla is alive, and thus causing unnecessary emotional distress to Kayla’s family, or watch as Drew’s meth-addict mom goes to jail. Torn between what she thinks is real about Kayla and what she knows is real about Drew’s situation, Gabie tries to put aside her whims.

Only she can’t do it. And with the ending turn of events, it’s a really good thing she can’t.
April Henry weaves as tight a plot, and just as compelling, as any C.S.I.-esque thriller. Indeed, a reader could probably read this book in about the same amount of time because the pages start turning themselves. Perspective is what struck me most in the framework of Henry’s text. Instead of a continuous, omniscient narrative, The Night She Disappeared offers two protagonists, several prominent voices (including that of the killer—creepy!), a wide swath of point-of-views, and chronological epistolary snippets that heighten the details and connect the images that bring the picture to completion. And this is so perfect because it reminds all readers—teens and adults—that there is never just one side to any story.
Eerily reminiscent, at least for me and probably more for adults than for teens, of the 1980’s Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris, April Henry’s novel has the same ingredients to build a cult fan base as the movie did in the early 90’s. In short, April Henry nailed it. Proof? Not only did I devour this novel in one sitting, but I did it with a toddler biting on my toes and the Wiggles playing on repeat.

 

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