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The Disapparation of James

The Disapparation of James

4.3 6
by Anne Ursu

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The Woodrow family is at the circus to celebrate Greta's seventh birthday. When a clown asks for a volunteer from the audience, the parents are shocked when James, their extremely shy five-year-old, raises his hand. James thrives in the spotlight, and as the clown leads him through the routine, the parents glow with pride as the audience cheers for their son. The


The Woodrow family is at the circus to celebrate Greta's seventh birthday. When a clown asks for a volunteer from the audience, the parents are shocked when James, their extremely shy five-year-old, raises his hand. James thrives in the spotlight, and as the clown leads him through the routine, the parents glow with pride as the audience cheers for their son. The cheers turn into thundering applause as the act culminates in spectacular fashion, with James vanishing before their very eyes. The trouble is that James really does vanish—poof—into thin air.

As the police and media descend on the Woodrows, they feel that the laws of the universe have shattered. How can you solve a puzzle with no logic? As young Greta sets out to discover what really happened to her brother, each family member grapples with the joys and perils of loving, the persistence of loss, and the magic of everyday life.

Editorial Reviews

Greta's seventh birthday is a gala occasion. To celebrate it, the Woodrow family goes en masse to the circus, where Greta's little brother, James, climbs to the stage as a volunteer in a vanishing act. Vanish he does, but as the trick nears completion, something goes terribly awry: James doesn't rematerialize. As family and police investigate this unnatural disappearance, the Woodrow cosmology begins to split apart and re-form in radiant new groupings.
Publishers Weekly
Alternative realities and parallel plot lines coexist in Ursu's surreal but psychologically acute second novel (after Spilling Clarence), in which a boy chosen from a circus audience to disappear during a clown's magic act really does disappear. Hannah and Justin Woodrow bring their daughter, Greta, to the circus for her seventh birthday, along with her five-year-old brother, James. Greta is outgoing, quick-witted and full of energy, while James is so quiet his mother plans to bring him to a specialist for tests. Both parents thrill when James is selected from the audience and responds charmingly to the clown's every request. Then, suddenly, James is gone. The police assign someone to watch over the family, but the officer turns from friend to aggressor while Mike the Clown is transformed from suspect to victim. Hannah dissociates, Justin obsesses and Greta does research. The child is the only one who is able to confront the loss directly. Ursu mixes realistic depictions of police interrogations and domestic tensions with fantastic interludes like a chapter imagining the day after James's disappearance as it would have been if the disappearance had not occurred. She delicately probes the worry and longing, guilt and rage, protectiveness and resentment that characterize parental love. James's "disapparation" is even more a mystery at the end of the novel than at the beginning, but it doesn't seem to matter, since Ursu wins the reader over with her humane wisdom and charming vision of the limitless possibilities of a child's imagination.
Minneapolis Star Tribune
With the matter-of-fact ease of a master fabulist, Ursu plays out all of the consequences of her novel's fantastical premise, crafting a deft, character-driven narrative about a family thrown into crisis by a child's mysterious disappearnce.
Seductive...like Ann Patchett's Bel Canto, "The Disapparation of James" celebrates the glory of ordinary life in the midst of trauma.
Entertainment Weekly
Ursu gently teases out the tale of a close-knit family whose youngest child, James, vanishes into thin air--literally. (A circus magician makes the kid--poof!--disappear, then can't bring him back.) Househusband Justin and his doctor wife, Hannah, find their blissful world suddenly frail and full of child-size holes. But James' sister seven-year-old Greta, reaches into her imagination to locate her brother: "lots of times when there's a mystery there's a clue, too, and it's up to the girl to figure it out, because adults just don't." Ursu's story is sweetly done, her own compelling magic trick.
Washington Post Book World
James's unnatural disappearance is a singularity that neither police work nor magic can explain, let alone undo, and its complex interaction with the novel's realistic elements -- so different from the simple accretion of realistic detail with which other writers, Stephen King for instance, have sought to dramatize the horror of a child in danger -- manages to seriously creep out the reader. What happens in the rest of the novel should not be described here, for, despite its postmodern embrace of artifice, Ursu's novel manages to elicit from the reader a very old-fashioned response: anxiety for what will come next. Mysterious and ultimately moving, The Disapparation of James powerfully evokes the tenderness of the bond between parent and child, and the parent's never-ending awareness of its fragility.
Bookstreet USA
Ursu's storytelling is engaging and pleasantly disorienting.
This is a story of the fragility of love and the mystery and magic that surround families. When Justin and Hannah take their shy five-year-old son James and his outgoing sister, Greta, to the circus, they are surprised when James volunteers to go on stage with the magician. As the last trick, the boy disappears...and no one knows where he went. In telling the story of the next few weeks of the life of the family, the author writes with great feeling and empathy for the family members, the magician and the police officers who almost become part of the family. The magic of family and when it can be explained and when it cannot is the theme of the book. It calls for a certain suspension of disbelief, but it also is based in reality. The subplot about the sister and a cop is particularly touching. The book has some foul language, which might limit its use with younger YAs, but high school students and adults will enjoy this book. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2003, Hyperion, 278p., Ages 15 to adult.
—Nola Theiss
Kirkus Reviews
A florid and in the end pointless account of a boy's disappearance, written by Ursu (Spilling Clarence, 2002) in a tone of the utmost gravitas. What is every parent's worst fear? Losing a child, of course. Ask Justin and Hannah Woodrow. A modern midwestern couple (working Mom, stay-at-home Dad), the Woodrows are devoted to their children (Greta and James) and to each other. On Greta's seventh birthday, they all go the Lindberg Performing Arts Center to see the Razzlers Circus Stage Show, which includes a disappearing act by Mike the Clown. Mike asks for volunteers and five-year-old James runs up to the stage, where Mike makes him disappear-but not come back. A Seinfeld episode? Not really, since no one (the cops least of all) is laughing. The eerie Mike is held for questioning but soon released (habeas corpus doesn't help much in vanishing cases), and Officer Tom Johnson has to admit that there's not a clue in sight. It's hard on the family, of course: Hannah sinks into depression, Justin becomes obsessed with magic and tracks down magicians to buy their secrets, and little Greta turns into a housebound introvert convinced she can will James back from the void. Eventually, Officer Johnson moves into their house for full-time surveillance, and Mike the Clown finds that his act has become more popular than ever as a result of ghoulish publicity. In the end, James returns as mysteriously as he left, and the Woodrows are happily reunited-though permanently scarred by their awareness that the worst calamity is always possible. A mess, with a circular plot and overripe style ("How do you contain so much prose and still exist?"): the sort of story that shouldn't have been let out of theworkshop.

Product Details

Hachette Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
13 - 18 Years

Meet the Author

Anne Ursu is the author of Spilling Clarence. She has worked at a major book retailer, as the theater critic for City Pages (Minneapolis), and as an arts writer for the Portland Phoenix (Maine). She lives in Mountain View, California.

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The Disapparation Of James 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was awesome and quite a page turner. It's great that the story moves along by each chapter being by a different character's perspective. Truly a great, creative story
Guest More than 1 year ago
A flawless novel in which a little boy vanishes during a night out with his family. The consequences which follow plague everyone. Your empathy for the family never waivers as you read about the disappearance through the eyes of James's mother, father, sister, and the police officer assigned to protect the family in the aftermath. An amazing novel that deserves more attention.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Takes an unlikely--indeed unbelievable--premise and makes out of it a thoroughly charming and wonderful story. Surprising, compassionate and gripping. I nearly had to put it down because I couldn't stand to find out what happened to James. But then, of course, I couldn't put it down!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Rarely do I say this about a book and I read probably 1 book every 10 days. This one was exceptional -- a stunning debut by an incredibly talented writer. I do not have any children of my own and felt as though I was suffering as a parent right along with James' parents. This book exemplifies what really good fiction is all about. Kudos to you, Anne!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Innovative and moving, Ms. Ursu flirts with possibilities in the most haunting of ways. How do we dare to love in a world where loss is everwhere? Daring fiction at its finest.
Guest More than 1 year ago
you want to be completely bored! This book is poorly written, predictable and long winded. The disorganization and lame dialogue make this one of the worst books I have ever read! I do NOT recommend this to anyone, and see it as a huge waste of time.