Alison, Who Went Away

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Overview

Fourteen-year-old Susan (or, as she prefers to be called, Sybil) has been trying to reinvent herself ever since the mysterious disappearance of her older sister, Alison. Life has been very confusing since Alison left. Susan’s mother has become overly protective, fearful of losing another child. Her new school is not all bad, of course, but it is different and puzzling. Her best friend, Connie, has what could be a wonderful idea—or maybe it has the makings of a disaster: if they sign up for the school play, they ...

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Overview

Fourteen-year-old Susan (or, as she prefers to be called, Sybil) has been trying to reinvent herself ever since the mysterious disappearance of her older sister, Alison. Life has been very confusing since Alison left. Susan’s mother has become overly protective, fearful of losing another child. Her new school is not all bad, of course, but it is different and puzzling. Her best friend, Connie, has what could be a wonderful idea—or maybe it has the makings of a disaster: if they sign up for the school play, they might end up with dates for the freshman dance.
Readers will empathize with Susan’s attempt to make sense of her confused world, the loss of her sister, a new school, turmoil at home, and the growing pains of adolescence. But Susan, despite all, remains bright, funny, and self aware with the help of a new and intelligently supportive stepfather and a lively group of school friends. The story is believable and touching and distinguished by the narrator’s voice.

Three years after the disappearance of her older sister, fourteen-year-old Sibyl and her family struggle to continue their lives, separately and together.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
Nothing has been the same in Sibyl's house since her older sister, Alison, went away. It's been three years, and still her mother and stepfather are so overprotective it is stifling. Yet Sibyl sometimes feels relieved that her sister is gone. Now she doesn't have to live up to Alison's legacy of beauty and intelligence. Sibyl's father, she learns, is gay and has moved with his partner to California. Finally, Sibyl gets permission to participate in a theatrical play at a neighborhood all-boys school. Meanwhile, everyone is talking about Robert Deitz, a man convicted of murdering at least twelve prostitutes. There is a vague allusion that the murderer may have something to do with Alison's disappearance. Unfortunately, Sibyl comes across as a somewhat whiny complainer, who gripes about everything from her family to her teachers to her appearance (three chapters are given over to her bad haircut). The details of Alison's disappearance are few and far between, and we don't get a hypothesis as to what happened until the last few pages. Sibyl is a lukewarm character at best, and her story rumbles along, missing more often than hitting the mark. 2001, Houghton Mifflin, $15.00. Ages 12 to 14. Reviewer: Christopher Moning
VOYA
Fourteen-year-old Sybil narrates this eerie story that centers on her older sister, Alison, who has been missing for three years. Able to express herself only through sarcasm, for current events assignments Sybil wryly selects only clippings about murderers, notably Robert Deitz, a local man convicted of killing prostitutes. Through Sybil, readers learn more about Alison and realize that she was not the wonderful sister first portrayed. Flashbacks reveal Alison increasingly in trouble, culminating with a solicitation arrest, after which she disappears. Family members individually blame themselves, leading all into therapy, where they learn that no one person or event is to blame for Alison's actions—there are no answers here. When Sybil learns of Deitz's death, she attends his wake and uses her strength from therapy to say goodbye to Alison. This novel is compelling, as readers slowly reconstruct Alison's story using bits and pieces from Sybil's narrative. Astute readers easily will connect Deitz with Alison, but this should not diminish their enjoyment. Deitz never confesses regarding Alison, leaving readers with an ambiguous ending that matches her behavior—questions are not always answered. The girls' gay biological father unfortunately is portrayed negatively. He abandoned them after divorcing their mother in shame. He blamed Alison's fate on his homosexuality—Alison had rejected him. Sybil feels that Alison's promiscuousness stems from fear of lesbianism. Female middle-level readers will find this novel engrossing, whether or not they are mystery fans. Alison's story is true to life, sadly illustrating that terrible events that no one can control do occur. VOYACODES: 4Q 4P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2001, Houghton Mifflin, 211p, . Ages 12 to 15. Reviewer: Lisa Spiegel SOURCE: VOYA, June 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 2)
KLIATT
Although there are some tragedies looming over Susan (aka Sibyl) and her family, namely the whereabouts of a runaway older sister, Alison, mostly this story reads like one of the books in the Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Bad hair days, a friend who is pushing Susan into a relationship with a handsome senior, an over-protective mom, classroom woes—these are the details, told with wit, that make up most of the novel. But, Susan and her family can't help but know that much of what they do is because of Alison rebelling so fiercely and leaving them. There is a serial killer in the vicinity, now caught, but no one knows for sure all the young women he murdered: Susan fears, but assumes, that Allison was one of his victims. Her own anger at Allison's rebellion has made Susan believe that somehow she was responsible for Allison's running away. Actually, everyone feels guilty about Alison: their father, who left the family and got a divorce because he is gay, feels that somehow he caused Alison's problems; the stepfather and mother feel that they were inadequate parents. But, although this is the spine of the story, the rest of it is rather light fare about being in a school play, dealing with unruly hair, and the like. At the end, a perfectly presentable boy Susan's age becomes her friend and emotional support, boding hope for the future. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2001, Houghton Mifflin, 211p, 00-032032, $15.00. Ages 13 to 15. Reviewer: Claire Rosser; March 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 2)
School Library Journal
Gr 6-9-It seems that 14-year-old Sibyl's most pressing problem is finding an acceptable date for the freshman dance at their all-girls school. Not to worry! Best friend, Connie, cooks up a plan that gets them cast in the play at Cardinal O'Gorman High, the all-boys school nearby. Most of the novel's surface action plays out against the backdrop of their rehearsals, with the normal teen-angst problems of boys, bad hair, and bratty brothers. Under the surface, however, much more is going on in Sibyl's life. Slowly, mostly through a series of flashbacks, readers learn from Sibyl that she has a gay father who left when she was five; a five-year-old, bed-wetting half-brother who can't adjust to life (but readers don't know why he is so unstable); a mother who is obsessively overprotective; and an older sister who left home three years ago and hasn't been heard from since. Through the course of the novel, readers slowly realize that the family is in denial that Alison may have been one of the prostitutes murdered by serial killer Robert Deitz. With this slight novel, Vande Velde, who is best known for her fantasies, has dived into the realism genre headfirst. Unfortunately, the book reads as though the author went down the list and tried to include every adolescent problem she could think of for her protagonist to deal with. The result is a somewhat shallow, unsatisfying story.-Betty S. Evans, Southwest Missouri State University, Springfield Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618045853
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 3/26/2001
  • Pages: 208
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Lexile: 900L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.22 (w) x 9.72 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author

Vivian Vande Velde has written many highly acclaimed books for teen and middle-grade readers, including Three Good Deeds , Heir Apparent, Deadly Pink, and the Edgar Award– winning Never Trust a Dead Man. She lives in Rochester, New York. Visit her website at www.vivianvandevelde.com .

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2011

    A must read!

    I read this book a few years ago and i don't remember much about it except that it was a good book. My sister who hates reading read this book and still remembers it. My sister cant stick to reading a whole book yet she was so into it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2002

    An Engrossing Page Turner

    Vande Velde does a masterful job of creating a believable teenage girl--with the usual anxieties about bad hair and bad boys--while allowing a rich secondary story to unfold about the darker side of the girl's family. Sybil's journey is marked by humor, sadness, friendship, and loss. And thanks to Vande Velde's deft writing, this is a most readable, powerful book for young adults.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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