Book Review: Watch Me Disappear

WATCH ME DISAPPEAR by Janelle Brown
Random House [Spiegel & Grau] | 07.11.2017
Rating: 4/5 stars

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Watch Me Disappear opens on the Flanagan family having what appears to be a perfect family afternoon with a trip to the beach and the butterfly garden. We soon learn that it has been a year since Billie Flanagan, wife and mother, has disappeared on a solo hiking trip in Desolation Wilderness. Billie has seemingly vanished. Leaving behind only a hiking boot, the police have come to the conclusion that she died in the woods despite having found no body.

One year later, Jonathan Flanagan finds himself barely getting by with maintaining the household, paying the bills, and attempting to live a normal life with his daughter, Olive. Jonathan has quit his job, something Billie always wanted him to do, and is attempting to write a novel about his relationship with his wife. Olive, their sixteen year old daughter, is precariously balancing teenage life and fitting in at an overpriced private Berkeley prep school, when she begins having visions of her mother.

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There are moments when you looks at your child and suddenly see a stranger there whom you never saw before, someone destined for things you can’t even imagine. And you think: How did they become this person? Were they molded by you or by the world around them or were they always going to be this way?
– Jonathan Flanagan

Jonathan and Olive embark on a journey to uncover the truth about what happened to Billie and along the way unravel a past that makes Jonathan begin to question if he ever really knew his wife at all. Excerpts of Jonathan’s love story novel capture his changing opinions and mood toward his wife. With each new revelation Jonathan begins to resent the life and relationship he thought he had with Billie, all the while push his daughter away from him. Olive is engrossed in the search for her mother and will stop at nothing to discover the truth.

Are some things better left in the past? Do we ever really know the ones we love? How far would you go to find out the truth?

These are all questions that Janelle Brown makes the reader ponder throughout the course of the novel. She weaves a story that creates well-formed characters, who you can’t help wanting to know more about. Brown has the ability to draw the reader in and feel as though you’re standing right alongside Jonathan and Olive as they work to uncover the mystery that is Billie Flanagan.

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A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.
– Graham Greene

The novel alternates between moments of fast-paced suspense where the reader can’t wait to know what will happen next and moments of what some readers may feel are the reveal of unnecessary details. I found myself rapidly turning the pages of this book in an attempt to find the truth. I highly recommend this to anyone looking for an intriguing story that makes you question how well you truly know the people around you.

Thank you to Random House and Janelle Brown for allowing me to read an advanced copy of this novel.

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