Review: “Rules for Vanishing,” Kate Alice Marshall

Pros: Incredibly intense and imaginative!
Rating: 5 out of 5

Kate Alice Marshall’s young adult horror story Rules for Vanishing is an utterly fascinating ride. Sara Donoghue’s sister Becca went missing a year ago, and Sara overheard her saying something about Lucy Gallows, the local urban legend. Supposedly if one goes to the right spot in the woods, with a partner, with a key, at the right time, a road will appear. That road leads to Lucy Gallows, a girl who got lost in the woods decades earlier. Sara found Becca’s journal filled with rules and tips and hints about the road and is determined to go in after her. She ropes her friends into joining her, and when the road appears before them, they’re off to find Becca.

There are so many questions to ask yourself along the way! Why was Becca so obsessed with Lucy and what drove her to do something so dangerous? Where did Becca get all of the information that’s in the notebook Sara found? Who sent the text message to all of Sara’s schoolmates daring them to try “the game” of looking for the road? These questions will all be answered–eventually. The manuscript takes the form of interviews, text messages, and more, all done after Sara (and others) return from the road. Something seems to be wrong with Sara–but what? There’s a crazy number of puzzle pieces to fit together, and as far as I could see Marshall manages it like a magician juggling torches. By the end I don’t think I had any major questions left. It’s the most delightfully intricate plotting, so pay attention to the details!

The world in which our heroes find themselves is daunting at best. They musn’t leave the road. If they find themselves in the Dark, each person needs to hold his partner’s hand and not let go. There are seven gates, and each one has its own rules and traps. There’s a mansion with twisting rooms inhabited by monsters, and a lighthouse with a puzzle to solve. There are other travelers on the road with them.

The characters are wonderful. Sara has gone a bit antisocial since Becca disappeared, and she seems to be the only person who doesn’t think Becca ran off with her boyfriend. The friends she grew up with aren’t really ready to move on without her, even though they’ve sort of had to. Sarah is bi, and has a crush on her friend Melanie, a crush she’s sure Mel doesn’t reciprocate. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say this story doesn’t follow the trope of using a gay character strictly for trauma points, which I appreciate.

This is a ghost story, a cosmic horror story (content note for mild blood and guts), and a fascinating adventure. I highly recommend it.

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