October 06, 2017

The Disappearance

Written by Gillian Chan
Annick Press
197 pp.
Ages 12+
September 2017

The who of the disappearance is Jacob but the why and where and how are answers that the police are  trying to extract from his group home roommate Mike McCallum, a teen who obviously has something to hide and is pleased to do so.  

It's pretty hard for Mike to stay under everyone's radar.  He's a big guy and his face is massively disfigured after his mother's boyfriend Danny brought a cleaver down on it.  Still Mike's internal scarring, from the death of his little brother Jon by Danny's drunken hand, is far worse.  Taken from his mother, a woman who regrets Danny being in prison, Mike has been in foster care for three years before he ends up at Medlar House.  There amongst the foster kids he meets the enigmatic Jacob, a boy who'd been found beaten up and unconscious in Dundas Valley Conservation Area and rarely speaks and shuts down in body and spirit when overwhelmed.  But when Jacob finally speaks to Mike it is to tell him that Jon has been there and has told Jacob about his death and more.

As Mike learns the routines of Medlar House and the personalities of the other kids, especially keeping an eye on the vicious Paddy and his lackey Matt, the fearful Adam and the victimized Jacob, he finds his role changing from thug to protector.  In his own way, Mike is trying to right his own wrong i.e., not saving Jon. But before he can really help, Jacob is exposed to far greater danger and horrific bullying that compels Mike to try to find a happy ending for this boy.  What he learns, with the help of Adam, is as mysterious as Jacob himself.

Without spoiling Gillian Chan's extraordinary plot twist, I can say that The Disappearance includes a supernatural element that has never been handled as eloquently as it has here. It is unexpected and unique and wholly convincing. (I want to share.  Really I do.  But I can't.) Still, even beyond her fantastic plot, Gillian Chan creates rich characters–Mike, Jacob, Adam, Chaz, Paddy, and others–that carry this story of hurts.  What has happened to Mike and Jacob is tragic.  Their lives have been destroyed by vicious and uncaring people whose choices superseded benevolence.  Even the charity granted the boys is tempered by the personalities of those involved: some do-gooders, some lazy, others greedy and some, like Chaz, compassionate and effective.  All they can do is endure and hopefully survive.  Without giving the reader a fairy tale ending of rainbows and sunshine, Gillian Chan resolves the story with realism and justness and the anticipation that sometimes you can save another.


The launch for The Disappearance is tomorrow in Hamilton.  Do go if you're in the area.  Details are provided here.

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