Title: Rules For Vanishing
Author: Kate Alice Marshall
Genre: YA Horror
Word/Page Count: 400 pages (paperback)
Publication Details: by Walker Books Australia on September 23rd, 2019
RRP: $16.99 AUD (paperback)
Synopsis from Goodreads:
In the faux-documentary style of The Blair Witch Project comes the campfire story of a missing girl, a vengeful ghost, and the girl who is determined to find her sister–at all costs.
Once a year, the path appears in the forest and Lucy Gallows beckons. Who is brave enough to find her–and who won’t make it out of the woods?
It’s been exactly one year since Sara’s sister, Becca, disappeared, and high school life has far from settled back to normal. With her sister gone, Sara doesn’t know whether her former friends no longer like her…or are scared of her, and the days of eating alone at lunch have started to blend together. When a mysterious text message invites Sara and her estranged friends to “play the game” and find local ghost legend Lucy Gallows, Sara is sure this is the only way to find Becca–before she’s lost forever. And even though she’s hardly spoken with them for a year, Sara finds herself deep in the darkness of the forest, her friends–and their cameras–following her down the path. Together, they will have to draw on all of their strengths to survive. The road is rarely forgiving, and no one will be the same on the other side.
This is a tremendously creepy and atmospheric read perfectly timed for your October TBR so you can delight in its thrills & chills in the lead-up to Halloween! Or you can race ahead like I did and read it earlier, because it really is too good to hold off on. 😉
A year ago, Sara lost her sister Becca when she walked down a ghost road in search of Lucy Gallows from local folklore; now that it’s time for this road to reappear, Sara is determined to find it and rescue Becca, no matter the cost. A group of her and Becca’s estranged friends gathers up to accompany her and though initially skeptical, when the road unfolds in front of them, they all decide to follow her down in the hopes of saving Becca.
Children’s skipping rhyme,
local to Briar Glen, MA
Little Lucy, dressed in white
Gave her mother such a fright
Walked into the woods one day
Where she went no one can say
Down a road that no one found
Or are her bones sunk in the ground?
How many steps did Lucy take?
One, two, three, four…
The local legend of Lucy Gallows and the twisted children’s skipping rhyme spawned from it really feels like something that could take place in any small town which adds to the creep factor. I love how convincingly the author has seeded her own mythology into an ordinary American town and built up these twisty layers of intrigue around it that draw in hapless travelers, paranormal investigators and other shadowy forces. It’s so believable I feel like I could google ‘Lucy Gallows’ now and end up on the fan forum discussing conspiracy theories and trading stories about people who have supposedly found the road!
A highlight of the novel is the unique storytelling format employed with traditional narration alongside interview recordings, written testimonies, group chat transcripts and more. With questions piling up as we hear the story from our increasingly unreliable narrator, having these external sources to glean information from makes it all the spookier when you start to spot contradictions between our protagonist Sara’s account of what happened and recordings or messages that relate something different. It makes for a spectacularly uneasy read when you can’t trust what you’re being told and my recommendation is that you keep a sharp eye out and question everything – if you see something that you think is a plot hole, it’s going to come back into play later in a horrifying way! The author absolutely slays at wicked shock reveals and subtle foreshadowing that you only recognize after it’s too late.
When I saw the comparison to The Blair Witch Project in the synopsis, I thought I knew what I was in for; I assumed there would be a slow build-up to the horror since with those ‘found footage’ stories, there’s usually a lot of slice-of-life scenes where you get to know the characters in their everyday lives before paranormal shenanigans turn everything upside down. However Rules For Vanishing throws out that playbook and amps up the horror surprisingly early! On one hand, I loved this because it meant there was no time wasted beating around the bush and we were tossed into the deep end with the main characters floundering around as they realized the myth of the road was all too real. On the other, it meant that we didn’t have time to properly learn about the teens who traveled the road and develop a bond with them so that it mattered more when they suffered. I struggled to keep the characters straight when there was such a large cast at the beginning (nine teenagers plus important recurring characters)! and had to go back a few times to refresh my memory.
But the great thing is that the group of teenagers is diverse, including characters of different ethnicities – Becca is Asian, Mel is black – and lesser seen representation with Jeremy who is hearing impaired and Vanessa who has a stutter (both of these may seem to be throw-away traits, but rest assured, they are plot relevant). Sara also happens to be bisexual and Mel is a lesbian, which is matter-of-factly acknowledged as part of their character rather than being the entirety of their character. I particularly liked how at one point, Sara reflects on how differently each of them ‘came out’ as it highlights that just because both of them may be interested in girls, it doesn’t mean that they process this in the same way.
“Have you guys ever watched, like, a single movie? We get on that road and about thirty seconds from now some hook-handed motherfucker is wearing our guts like a scarf.”
I’m impressed at how level-headed all the teens were in general! Aside from the questionable decision to walk down the road in the first place, this was like none of the horror books or movies I’ve seen before where I normally end up shrieking at the characters for making stupid suicidal decisions. Instead the characters here are sensible, they try to make rational decisions and talk through their disagreements, and while they have moments of panic as anyone would in the traumatic situation they’re facing, they stick together and do their best to look out for each other. ❤ I mentioned earlier that some of the characters weren’t overly fleshed out, but seeing them on the road fighting to save one another endeared them to me and I did feel protective of these poor overwhelmed kids.
I really appreciated how the author steered away from pointless drama on the road – there’s often the temptation to have the group fracture and turn on each other in a tiresome and contrived manner. Not only was that avoided here, but where I thought a couple of the teens were being set up for villainous arcs, my expectations were surprisingly subverted! And while there is a hint of romance with two different couples, it’s appropriately kept in the background as there is no time for hormonal fumblings when you’re on the run for your life.
The trials of the road itself need to be experienced for yourself, but I again have to praise the author for her creativity as this felt completely fresh and different. No zombies or redneck cannibals or masked killers! With seven gates to walk through, it could have easily turned into Groundhog Day with a retread of similar terrifying tests over and over, but happily for the reader, each experience is chilling in a different way. It’s not simply a test of the characters’ physical strength and stamina, but also their mental fortitude, and the psychological conflict elevates this story to a whole other level.
My main qualm is the open ending that leaves readers with more questions and less closure. For some, this won’t be an issue and will simply add to the spooky atmosphere, but personally, it does irk me to end on this note when there is no mention of a sequel. However, that is one small flaw in a book that made my heart race with fear and dread, where the unique compelling plot shocked and engaged me, and its diverse plucky core cast made me root for them against all odds.
¿ʇuǝʍ ʎɔn˥ ǝɹǝɥʍ ʍouʞ oʇ ʇuɐʍ noʎ op
This is a fantastically imaginative and eerie story that is like nothing you’ve read before. With themes exploring the bonds of sisterhood, survival vs self-sacrifice and wrestling with the supernatural, Rules For Vanishing appeals on multiple levels and is highly recommended!
Personal Rating: 5 out of 5 kitties recommend this book.
Praise from other bloggers:
Disclaimer: Physical copy provided by publisher free for an unbiased review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.