The Horn Book Guide
Vanishingby Bruce Brooks
Alice just can't stop crying. To her, it seems as if it should be simple. If your parents split up, you live with the one who understands you best. Alice's father had always been the one to "get" her. But somehow she had ended up living with her mom, who drank too much, and her stepfather, who didn't like her and didn't care who knew it. So when a bout with bronchitis lands her in the hospital, she decided she just can't face going home again--ever.
What if she simply stops eating--goes on a hunger strike? They would have to keep her there, wouldn't they? It seems like the simplest solution, even when the hallucinations start, even when they kind of take over. But suppose she goes into a coma--or dies? If that happens, she'll have her new friend Rex, the mysterious boy who says he's dying, but whose jaunty ways have brought Alice to life.
Once again, Bruce Brooks tells an intriguing story that puts new twists on the oldest, biggest issues--love, death, and taking charge of your own life as you move toward adulthood.
The Horn Book Guide
- HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.00(w) x (h) x 0.22(d)
- Age Range:
- 10 Years
Read an Excerpt
She doesn't really remember the first time it happened. She knew only that she had left the surface of the bed beneath her and was slowly rising, until she reached a point where she stopped and simply hovered. She hung there, feeling surprised, but joyous, and lighter, definitely lighter. After a while she descended just as gently as she had risen, and she couldn't help feeling disappointed about going down. But the descent was not the quick flop gravity would have given her; no, she was still in the grip of something delicate and independent and strong.
The second time she found herself going a little higher, feeling a little lighter, a little more joyous. And this time she noticed the light above for the first time. It covered the ceiling, but seemed focused exactly above her, too pale to be bright, but intense and warm. It was a warmth she hadn't felt before'a welcoming warmth. But as she began her descent she knew she could only go as far up as she was taken, that she had to be lighter to rise higher, to reach that warmth.
Soon she found that she didn't need to wait for the rising experience to call her. This was quite startling at first -- she wished for it, and it happened. Still she could only go as high as she was "allowed." She rose higher and higher. But the ceiling and the light were just out of reach. But she had learned to be patient; she knew she would get there.
She told the shrink and Rex about the rising and even about the lights. But she didn't tell them she could command the experience to start. This strange power of her will is her secret.
As the days passed, she noticed something new. Her skin was getting thinner. She was growing lighter and lighter --and transparent. She felt she could choose to pass through her skin from the inside, and then throw it away like a cellophane wrapper. But she could never quite bring herself to this, even though she felt "called" to do so. She was still too heavy, too heavy. On earth, she was so appallingly heavy. She was a burden to everyone.
Only Rex's voice could reach her when she was up. Hearing it, she would always will herself down. Alice didn't know why Rex pulled her back, but one time he said, "They like you up there, don't they?" When Alice stammered some lame joke in reply, Rex shocked her by looking her earnestly in the eyes and saying, "Please, Al -- I want you down here for a while. Promise me -- don't fly away yet, okay?" Alice laughed, but when he insisted on the promise, she gave it. Now sometimes, up high, she almost regretted that promise.
Waiting only a couple of seconds for the air to settle a little after the doctor stormed from the room, Rex stretched in the institutional-green armchair like a waking cat and said, "Further evidence supporting my theory that some -- not all, but some -- people go to medical school because they get off on scaring other people, and see the unlimited possibilities that that M.D. and white coat give them."
"Don't I scare you, honey?" said the nurse with a mock pout. "I got a whole white dress." Rex gave a dismissive snort.
From the bed, where she was still going through something somewhere between an extended shudder and a bad case of the shivers, Alice managed to say, "Well, if he was out to scare me, he gets a 9.7, maybe a 9.8." For almost a week now she had been in the grips of a hallucination that let her see the words that came out of people's mouths -- as something between pure light and brightly tinted plastic shapes. As her hallucinations went, it was one of the more amusing. She saw the fear in her voice now; she was talking in balloonlike, elongated, twisted ovals, silvery-gray and fading fast.
Rex looked at her keenly for a second. "You don't mean that coma stuff actually got to you?"
Alice tried to shrug, but it came off as an even bigger shudder. "It's possible my ability to scoff and blow off my doctor telling me I'm probably going to drop into a coma within twenty-four hours has been weakened a bit, by my having lost those famous thirty-two pounds he kept hammering on about."
"Don't need to hammer on -- go look in a mirror, child," said the nurse. But Alice avoided mirrors.
Rex made another dismissive, mildly obscene mouth noise, which had a very brief but fascinating appearance to Alice -- a series of bright-red bubbles that popped in descending order of size. "Comas are nothing special," he said. "As you know, I've -- "
"-- survived three of them in the past eighteen months, yeah, yeah. You're the legendary Prince of Remission, well-known far and wide in the medical community for your miraculous hardiness in the face of a supposedly terminal disease and your fearless subjection to every experimental technique for a cure known to science. Whereas I am just a gal who won't eat, still subject to trifling fears at the idea of disappearing into a total lack of consciousness for an indefinite period, possibly forever." She tried a jaunty grin at Rex. "Remember, I didn't get into this thing to try to die or anything -- "
"And all this time I thought your secret motivation was to keep me company as I wasted away," Rex sighed. "I had hoped this I-won't-go-home-and-be-unhappy business was just for show." He sighed again. "Another illusion about the brotherhood of man brutally shattered."
"It must be rough," said Alice. "If I were really your friend I would make sure I dropped dead at the exact moment you did."
"The exact moment I do," Rex corrected her grimly. He then said, "If you're afraid, try saying the word over and over again until it means nothing. That works for me sometimes. I just go 'Death Death Death Death . . .' and pretty soon I might as well be saying 'Toast Toast Toast-'" He clapped a hand over his mouth. "Oops. How tactless of me to mention food."
Alice tried it, repeating Coma eight times. Then she was silent.
"Well?" said Rex. "Are we better now?"
Alice shook her head. "Worse," she whispered.
"Okay, then try thinking of this: If you're in a coma, see, then that stepfather of yours can walk in here and, like, yell at you all he wants, and even threaten to swat you, and, like, you won't even hear him! Because you'll be, like, in a coma, see! Come on, man'it's beautiful, in its way." Rex gave a big fake smile that would have included highly raised eyebrows if he had possessed any, and nodded. "Now how's about that for some cheery thinkin'?"
"Gee, thanks," said Alice gravely.
Rex gave a disgusted wave. "Oh, then go ahead and believe your overdressed doctor-dude and be a fraidy-cat. 'Coma,'" he said in falsetto, rolling his eyes. "Oooooh, how vewy fwightening."
Alice looked out through her window, ignoring Rex. It was a winter morning. Lately she had been feeling as if she were a winter morning, all day, right there in her body: cold, dry, leafless, twiggy, but still very much alive, very much in motion. She had lost thirty-two pounds, and though she did not know it, she looked quite a bit like a dead tree with eyes.
In a few minutes, in a more sober voice, Rex said, "What part worries you, really? About the coma thing? Is it the idea of indefiniteness?"
It was a good question, one she had asked of herself many times. She believed she had never felt better. She also believed she spent most of her time hovering above the beds of the children's ward on a plateau of pure light.
"What scares me is the short-term memory loss he keeps mentioning as, like, a side effect."
"Oh, that." Rex waved a contemptuous hand. "It's probably a crock, and anyway who cares if you lose a little short-term memory?" He swept his arm around the empty ward. "You want to remember all this? Along with those fascinating visits from your mom, when she sits and reads a magazine article about putting the thrill back into her sex life while you think you're hovering up near the ceiling? Or the visits from my mom or dad, when they stand there for fifteen minutes with their hats in their hands like they were visiting a grave? These things you want to hang on to?" He suddenly laughed. "And most beautifully, when it comes to short-term memory, how are you even going to know what you lost? I mean, you won't remember what you -- " He lost his sentence in laughter.
Alice nodded but didn't smile. After a moment she said, "Short-term memory is one of my best things. And it's also one of the more test-functional skills in intelligence measurement." She blinked to avoid entering a sheen of blue light that suddenly approached her through the window like weather, the distraction threatening to end this important conversation. She struggled to focus. "Because short-term memory is one of my strengths, I am loath to jeopardize -- "
"Oh, come on. Listen to you -- nobody is ever 'loath,' for one thing, so yank that one right out of the old vocabulary, Ms. Precious. And about these rumored tests -- look, you're smart, or you're not, okay? Any test complex enough to claim to measure 'intelligence' is going to catch you somewhere. Of course," he added, with a melodramatic sniff, "there's a third option: You're smart, or you're not, or it could be that instead of these two you are dead, in which case the test form will sit blankly on the lonesome desk, all forlorn, a symbol of potential that will never be fulfilled, as is the case with poor old Rex." He sniffed a couple of times more, and sighed heavily. Alice knew it was not a sigh to be taken seriously. "However," Rex continued, waving a hand, "you, with nothing really the matter with you -- you have a future to worry about, looking ahead to which law schools might look askance at those short-term memory scores a few years back -- "
"I'm not going to be a lawyer and you know it," said Alice, "and anyway you've lasted here almost eighteen months. Why should we suppose you're going to succumb to your cruel illness anytime soon, leaving that desk unoccupied and that form blank and that potential unfulfilled? How do we know anything's really wrong with you, except that you're going bald? Yeah'you could be faking this whole thing just to get a little special attention." Alice laughed and, as she did so, she looked again out the window and wondered where the curtain of blue light had gone.
"Jeez, I think I am getting bored," Rex announced. He hauled himself out of his chair.
"So learn Japanese. I hear it's challenging," said Alice. "Build small ships in bottles using only period wood and cloth. Write some sonnets. Write some sonnets in Japanese. Recover intact from another couple of comas, then recover from your secret fatal disease. You have lots of options."
"There was a nurse from Japan on the ward once," Rex said, sitting back into the chair again, sideways, and putting his hands behind his head. "Some stupid exchange program, a sister hospital in Osaka or somewhere. But we had one slight problem with this particular student: She spoke absolutely no English. Not one word -- not 'yes' or 'no' or 'spinal meningitis' or anything. So naturally they assigned her to the children's ward, because you don't need to talk to kids, right? Well, one of the guys in here, I swear I'm telling the truth, he was this brand-new amputee who'd got his foot caught in a combine or something, working his daddy's tobacco farm, and it was all he thought about, the farm I mean, not the injury, he just completely blew off the amputation of one of his two feet as if a prosthesis were an expected fringe benefit from the work. This kid had this tobacco-toolbook. Ah, what a book it was. A masterpiece, Alice. With good-quality photographs, printed perfectly on excellent paper. It was this mouthwatering catalogue of tobacco-harvesting equipment, if you can imagine such a thing. It had scads of, like, really obscure stuff, very peculiar-looking machinery, many pieces of which you could easily imagine chewing this kid's foot up, snicker-snack." Rex smiled. "So in six weeks we taught this Japanese nurse everything in this book'every word to go with every picture of every obscure tobacco tool. Functions, too! She was a one-woman smoke-farm staff. Then she left, and we never heard from her again. But I bet she's a real hit at parties in Osaka."
"She probably is," said Alice, trying to maintain her concentration through Rex's long story. Sometimes, during hallucinations, she found it troublesome to bring her attention back to Rex. "The Japanese smoke almost as much as the Americans do."
"There you are, then. With their talent-spotting system, they've probably nailed her by now and made her Minister of Amputation and Carcinoma."
"But let's get back to my coma."
Rex was impatient. "Look, what coma? Doctors just fling these words around." Acting disgusted, he nevertheless rattled off a series of quick questions. "Do you feel suddenly and unusually faint?"
"No. Just kind of lightheaded, as usual. Pleasant, actually. Very clear."
"Clear, shmeer. You're probably about two missed glucose drops from acute induced psychosis, you know. But coma? Do you fall asleep at odd times -- drifting off into sudden deep naps, waking up not knowing where you are, that kind of thing?"
"No," said Alice. "I hardly sleep at all. I -- I just kind of shimmer beneath the sheets, see, and sort of glow through the night." She blushed.
Rex rolled his eyes. "You're entirely too poetic -- and too bad at it -- to be really sick, which is why you've had to go and invent an illness just for yourself. 'I just kind of shimmer!'" Then Rex laughed and shook his head. "But see, that's what's got these docs so mad! You 'just kind of shimmer' -- what are they supposed to do with that? You are in complete control! They're flat out of their league when it comes to you, no predictions leading to exact results, no surgical removals, no treatment schedules. You -- only you -- are the boss, the inventor. It all waits on you -- the Honcho. The Hog. You, Alice, are the man."
"Yeah," said Alice, and for the first time, still looking out the window, at a landscape wrapped again in blue like a present, she smiled. "I am. I am the man."
Meet the Author
Bruce Brooks was born in Virginia and began writing fiction at age ten. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1972 and from the University Of Iowa Writer's Workshop in 1980. He has worked as a newspaper reporter, a magazine writer, newsletter editor, movie critic, teacher and lecturer.
Bruce Brooks has twice received the Newbery Honor, first in 1985 for Moves Make the Man, and again in 1992 for What Hearts. He is also the author of Everywhere, Midnight Hour Encores, Asylum for Nightface, Vanishing, and Throwing Smoke. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews
i did not think to much of this book, but it just was not my type of reading. An eleven year old girl does not want to return to her alcoholic mother and mean step father so she does not eat so she can stay in the hospital with her new found friend Rex. Like i said before this was just not my type of book, but I would reccomend it to anyone who has an eating disorder or someone who enjoys a good dramatic\sad story.
I first read this book when I was 16, when I didn't have an eating disorder. It was a library book, and once I returned it, I forgot the title, and didn't think about it again. That is, until I stopped eating myself. My favorite quote from this book will always be 'If you only knew how good it makes me feel,' when Alice is talking to her mother about her not eating. I use that quote all of the time in my journal because, well, it's true. This is one of the best books I've ever read (and I've read it twice), and I strongly recommend it to anyone who has an eating disorder or knows someone who does.
I might not be 40 but if you like to read you will read anything that sparks your interest. Me im not the reading type put if i see a book that i like i will buy it and read it and at the end if i like it ok great for me right. This book was pretty good but a little too fictional for me. you never end up finding out what Rex has. If Alice's mother really loved her she would have stopped drinking and told Nat that either her accepted Alice or he was gone.
This quick read informs readers that you have to make something out of your life to live a good life. I recomend this to people who are not affraid to read about diseases like belimic anorexic and all that stuff. This book is one of those books I call ' A Book with a light at the end of the tunnel'
You can learn hw to deal with family problems and much muh more from Vanishing. It is a great book for kids age 12 and up. Adults will also enjoy this powerful story of how a young girl faces her life and plays her own deck of cards.
What I found most fascinating in 'Vanishing' was not the plot or the characters but the experiences of consciousness Alice has as the tether to her body gets slimmer and slimmer. The experiences take many shapes: synesthesia, in which Alice sees shapes and colors spill from the mouths of people as they speak; out-of-body awareness; and the ultimate Vedic mind-blower, the reduction of the self to a point in consciousness before expanding to infinity. For an emerging soul, these depictions may be the most durable contributions of this book. At first I was put off by the precocious tone of the kids' speech. But then I realized 'Vanishing' isn't written to imitate the speech patterns of 11-year-olds any more than 'The West Wing' purports to give an accurate portrayal of dialogue in the White House. Instead, 'Vanishing' presents the dialogue you wish you could have spoken when you were an adolescent faced with impotent parents who want to bequeath their legacy of hopelessness to you. 'Vanishing' is surely a book for adults. So the question becomes, is this a book for kids? I'm pretty sure my 10-year-old wouldn't read it. But when he turns 14 or 15 and his nervous system has become capable of abstract thought, it could be good. When he is physiologically capable of experiencing his essential being as pure consciousness, separate from thoughts, feelings and the body, it may be important to read this book. When it's dawning on him that the simple act of living sometimes demands that we make a conscious decision to live, then yes, son, I have a book for you.
This book was the most boring book I read.