The Disappearances

The Disappearances

by Emily Bain Murphy

Hardcover

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780544879362
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 07/04/2017
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 488,466
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 7.80(h) x 1.40(d)
Lexile: HL750L (what's this?)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author


Emily Bain Murphy grew up in Tokyo and Hong Kong, graduated from Tufts with a major in creative writing, and now lives in San Francisco with her family. She has been published in the Indianapolis Star and Indianapolis Monthly Magazine. The Disappearances is Emily's debut novel.  
 

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

Gardner, Connecticut
September 27, 1942

I want something of hers.
     There’s a teacup downstairs, the last one she used before she died. She didn’t finish her chicory coffee that morning, and what she left stained the porcelain in a faint ring. Her lipstick remains smudged in Red Letter Red along the rim. It’s been three weeks, and I still haven’t been able to wash it away.
     But I shouldn’t choose the teacup. Nothing fragile is going to survive today.
     “Aila?” Cass opens my bedroom door, her white blond hair pinned up in a plait, her wide eyes darker than normal. “Your father says I can come with you to the train station, but we have to leave in five minutes.”
     “I’ll be ready,” I say softly. “I would be more worried about Miles.”
     She nods and disappears back into the hallway. Her footsteps fall on creaking boards, and then the house returns to its solemn hush, so quiet you can almost hear the dust settle. As if we have all already left it.
     Five minutes.
     I go to my parents’ room.
     It’s been tidied since the last time I was here, the day of my mother’s memorial. Now the bed is made. All the flowers have been cleared away. Her vanity is free of her compacts and even the precious glass vial of Joy perfume she always displayed but hardly ever wore. I open her drawers, run my fingertips over her jewelry, but it’s all tangled and gaudy, and I want to leave it there, just as she left it. As if she could come in at any moment and clip on her big ugly earrings, as bright and jagged as suns.
     I turn to the bookshelf. It, too, has been sorted, but I prefer the way it used to look, when the books were all jumbled and wedged in at odd angles, threatening to fall onto my feet.
     My eye catches a large leather volume, its spine dwarfing all the others. I’ve never seen it before. I kneel down in front of it, my knees finding the threadbare place where the rug has worn almost through to the floor.
     I pull out the book and flip through the pages. They whisper against my fingers, thin and delicate, like moth wings. It is Shakespeare, a collection of his plays and poems, and my mother’s handwriting is everywhere in it, littering the margins and cluttering the white gaps between sentences in different-colored ink. The pages are yellowing, as if Mother has had this book for a long time. I wonder where it’s been hiding until now.
     An envelope is taped to the back cover. It is blank, and unsealed, and there is a note inside.
     “Aila! Miles!” Father’s voice rings out from the kitchen.
     “Coming!” I call back.
     The note was written recently; I can tell by the way her handwriting shakes, like it did when she was nearing the end. It says:

Stefen: You will find what you asked for within this. I will always love you.
     Your Viola

My attention snags on the two names. Because the first one does not belong to my father. And the second, though it is definitely my mother’s handwriting, was not her name. My mother was the other well-known Shakespeare heroine. The one who also died young.
     Juliet.
     “Aila!” my father calls again. This time it’s more of a warning.
     Leave it, I think. You don’t even like Shakespeare.
     And maybe I don’t want to know who this Stefen is.
     I put the book back on the shelf and decide that I want the teacup. It is my mother just as I remember her, safe and familiar, and it is still marked by her touch. I’ll bring it even if I have to hold it on my lap, cupped in my hands like a butterfly for the entire journey.
     I hurry down the narrow stairs, which seem to slope more and more to the right each year. I’ve never lived anywhere but this house—​which we fondly call “the Tilt”—​and I know just where to place my hand on the banister to keep my balance and where to step so the stairs don’t creak. When I reach the landing, I hear my next-door neighbor, Mrs. Reid. She’s in the kitchen with Father, taking final instructions for watching over the Tilt while we’re gone. She’s opening drawers and closing them, and I’m sure she’s the one who organized my mother’s books. Maybe out of guilt.
     “I’m sorry, again, Harold, that we aren’t able to take the children,” she says. I pause on the staircase, in the shadows. All I can see are her stockinged calves and the worn leather of her pumps, but I picture her lips pursing down, her white hair wispy and always looking as though it’s being swept heavenward by the wind. “With Earl’s health,” she continues, “I just didn’t feel that we could manage them both.”
     She means that she would have taken me, but not Miles. She doesn’t want to be responsible when he inevitably steals something or sets a fire. The creases in Mrs. Reid’s pumps deepen as she shifts her weight. “I thought someone else in town would surely be able to help, but . . .”
     “Well, thankfully, we’ve found other arrangements,” Father says stiffly. Then he turns away to yell again, but I appear in front of him before he can say my name.
     “I’m here,” I say. My eyes fall from Mrs. Reid’s overly rouged cheeks to her hands, where she’s been anxiously fiddling with something. A tea towel embroidered with green leaves—​and my mother’s teacup, scrubbed shiny clean.
     I swallow. “I forgot one thing,” I say, turning and running back up the stairs. I touch my mother’s dresses one more time, hanging in neat, still lines in the closet, knowing they will be packed in storage or given away by the time I return. Then I grab the book of plays, stuffing it into my knapsack without another thought.

Father drives us to the train station in our mud-streaked Studebaker—​he and Miles in the front and Cass and me in the back seat, my knapsack with the book in it lying heavy on the seat between us. “Think Mrs. Reid can handle the Tilt while we’re away?” Father asks. He smiles at me in the mirror and reaches over to ruffle Miles’s hair, but Miles just stares straight ahead. As we pull away, I don’t let myself look at the browning dahlias in Mother’s flower boxes.
     Everything is in motion when we arrive at the station, as if the air itself were anxious. Posters flutter on the walls, pigeons flap and peck, tow-white strands of Cass’s hair whip loose from her braid. She helped me set my wave this morning because I’ve always liked the way she does it best, but I can already feel it starting to fall. My dress clings to my legs, and my ankles are sweating inside my bobby socks. It’s unseasonably hot for late September. Cass and I step into the shadows of the eaves while Miles and my father purchase our tickets. I lean against a war poster that warns, “Telling a friend may mean telling THE ENEMY.” An advertisement over Cass’s head promises an “ALL-AMERICAN sugar with energy crystallized by the sun!”
     Overhead, the clouds swirl like soup.
     “You’ll come back soon,” Cass says.
     “You’ll write,” I answer.
     “I wish you could stay with me,” she says, tears brightening her eyes. She is my oldest friend, the one who climbed into bed behind me on the day my mother died and braided my hair until I fell asleep. The next morning, I found that she’d woven in her favorite ribbon, the cerulean one embroidered with flowers. The one she’d always planned to wear to our first school dance.
     “I wish I could, too,” I say. Being stuffed in a room with Cass and her three older sisters sounds better than the unknown ahead, even though I’ve always been a little frightened of Cass’s mother.
     Cass stares at the suitcase at our feet. “You’re not going to fall in love with some swoony out there and never come back, are you?”
     I squeeze her hand. “Maybe now Dixon Fairweather will finally realize what a dish I am.”
     She starts to cry-laugh as my father joins us on the platform, looking down at the newly purchased tickets in one hand and clutching my brother’s suitcase in the other. “Where’s Miles?” I ask, and my father glances up with the pained look of someone who has spent too long staring at the sun.
     “He was just here,” he says.
     Our train is coming down the tracks, its white smoke pillowing up into the sky. The brassy clang of the bell grows louder.
     “I’ll check the entrance,” I say, snatching up my bag.
     “Lavatory,” my father says.
     “I’ll take the staircase,” Cass volunteers.
     There are people everywhere in the depot, mostly women and children now that so many of the men have been plucked away to fight. I walk through the snaking line and peer out into the street, the heat and train bell in my ears, my heart quick and light. He is not there.
     I’m searching for the burnt copper of his hair, but on the way back to the platform I glimpse the tweed of his cap instead. Miles is sitting on the floor of the station, eating a half-melted Peppermint Pattie he must have hidden in the pocket of his shorts.
     I want to jerk his arm or at least rip the candy from his hand. Instead I stand and let my shadow fall over him.
     “Golly gee,” he says flatly. “You found me.”
     “Miles,” I hiss. “We were looking for you. Why did you run off?” I ask, although part of me wishes that he had actually gone far enough to make us miss the train.
     “Use your eyes,” he mumbles. “I was hungry.”
     “Use your head. You wreak havoc wherever you go.” You’re the very reason no one here was willing to take us, I want to say, but instead I offer him a hand up. He follows me, dragging his feet, back out to the platform, to my father and Cass.
     “Found him,” I say unnecessarily.
     I can tell that my father doesn’t want to yell at Miles in these last moments. He squints at us and picks up our suitcases, his broad, tall frame sharp against the sagging leather. He won’t leave until tomorrow, heading in the opposite direction. A plane to San Francisco. Then out to the endless Pacific.
     “It’s time,” he says.
     I embrace Cass first and try to think of the perfect words to say, but Father’s foot is tapping, his eyes never leaving the nearest conductor, and somehow Miles has managed to ruin even this. “Well,” I say, suddenly shy, “goodbye.” I take out one of my own ribbons and push it into Cass’s hand.
     Then I turn to my father. He’s shaved for the first time in weeks, and his cheek is so smooth I want to stay there for just a moment longer, to breathe in that smell of star anise and lather. I used to lie awake at night, fearing that he’d be called up in the draft. But now that it has happened, I know he will not die in the war—​because my mother just died, and that will serve as some sort of protection around him, like a halo. This makes perfect sense to me. So I press my cheek against his one last time and then let him go.
     “It won’t be long before I’ll see you again,” Father says. Miles sets his chin but then drops his bag and throws his arms around our father in a hard hug. “It’s only temporary,” Father says. He swallows, his voice catching. He lets go of Miles and leans down to whisper in my ear, “My little elf.”
     Miles and I board the train, and Cass stands just below the window, tears streaming down her face. She’s tied my ribbon into her hair. As the porter loads my suitcase, its tag turns over like a browned leaf and I catch the swirl of my mother’s handwriting.
     I wave to my father, but he has already turned away. Now there is not a doubt left that I will see him again. This can’t be my final memory of him, his shoulders weighted under a sky the color of graphite, my reflection flickering and fading as I wait for him to turn back one last time and watch us go.

The train ride north to Sterling is four hours. I don’t mean to fall asleep, but halfway there I do. My neck has a crick in it when I jerk awake. Every dream is the same: the bright puffs of flowers around Mother’s bed; how still she is, her hands like marble when I reach up to touch them; and then the chill that echoes through to my bones until I gasp awake.
     For a moment I think we’ve missed our stop, but Miles is sitting across from me, sketching, and there’s nothing out the window but fields and sky.
     I reach for the hidden tip of my knobby right ear, a habit of childish comfort I’ve been trying to give up. I can tell that Miles notices by the way he smirks down at the notepad in his lap. His fingers guide various pencils over the page until the familiar curve of our mother’s headstone appears, wreathed with a rainbow of flowers.
     It’s all he draws lately, the same picture repeating, just like my dream. I wonder which one of us will stop first.
     “Are you hungry?” I ask, unwrapping the peanut butter sandwiches Mrs. Reid packed and handing a half-smashed one to Miles. The train car is almost empty now. We eat without talking, and when I tire of staring out the window, I pull out the Shakespeare book.
     The cover is thick, bound with burgundy leather. I flip through the pages, wondering where to start. There are pen markings under certain lines, and she’s written nonsensical notes in the margins, circling words like nose-herb and scribbling Sounds like Var’s . . .
     The play Twelfth Night seems to have the most markings. Some of the pages are bent, and the ink is smeared. I flip to the end again, but this time I ignore the envelope. The back cover is lined with velvet, and my fingertips leave patterns on it the way they would on a frosted window.
     And then I notice the smallest tear fraying at the corner.
     I glance at Miles. He is absorbed with drawing the yellow burst of a sunflower, so I pull on the cover’s thread. It comes away, and I realize it’s been sewn on in faint stitches. My curiosity catches like a white flame, and I work out the stitches with my nail, staring out the window so that I won’t draw Miles’s attention. When the flap is loosened enough, I slide the book back into my knapsack to hide it. Then I sweep my fingers into the opening.
     Even before my fingertips feel glass, I know it.
     There’s something hidden inside.

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The Disappearances 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
SMParker More than 1 year ago
The Disappearances is a beautifully-crafted, wholly original debut. I admit I wanted this book because of its cover and its promise: What if the ordinary things you take for granted suddenly…disappear? But the writing blew me away; it’s utterly gorgeous. Murphy made me marvel at her descriptions and ache for the simple pleasures that ‘disappear’ throughout her story. She weaves magic and mystery and family secrets together to create the beautiful story that is The Disappearances. I simultaneously wanted to race through this book and savor every masterful sentence. It is zero surprise that this debut was chosen as an ALAN pick in Nov/Dec 2016. It’s truly extraordinary and I’ll be the first in line to buy whatever Murphy writes next.
Anonymous 4 days ago
This is a very good book i like books like this a lot so i am happy some body wrote this book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Riddles. Curses. Shakespeare. A small town mystery. 1940's. Eerie vibes. Rich characters. This book is quiet, yet entirely bewitching. Perfect for a relaxing, summer afternoon read. This will definitely be in my top 10 favorite books of the year, maybe even top 5. Here's why: -this showcases one of the most well developed MC's I've read all year. Her and her brother felt like real people in the most ordinary way, but so exquisitely detailed that they seemed to breathe on the page. - the creepy "normal things go missing" every seven years curse. I loved this trope in The Spellbook of the Lost and Found too– both books pull it off in much the same, unsettling way. - the time period gave the story a nice "simple way of life", back-home feel. It was incredibly nostalgic. It explored the WW2 era, without revolving around the war. - the mystery. A+ - I could wrap myself up in the prose and die happy. What absolute gorgeous descriptions! - the love interest was a **gasp** nice person. I can't believe it. I can't believe no one has been talking about this book, and I truly can't believe this is a debut. Brava, Emily Bain Murphy!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it. It was so different from the last reads. It made me think what if I couldn’t hear the voice of love or the see the color of a rose.
pooled_ink More than 1 year ago
pooled ink Reviews: Oh I loved it! Now I know that there are plenty of people who will have differing opinions but for me this book happened to strike a magical sweet spot with my soul and from start to finish it had my heart trapped between its pages. I was kept constantly curious and enraptured by the mystery, the characters, and the lovely flowing turns of phrase. A dark and sinister mystery set in the 1940s and filled with clever riddles, mysterious Shakespeare, and a thread of a sweet romance of true love, my heart swelled at the touch of this story as it filled me with fear, awe, yearning, and joy. Flowing prose, intriguing characters, and a mystery where life’s simple blessings disappear one by one, THE DISAPPEARANCES will certainly stand out from the others on the shelves. **Read my FULL review on my Wordpress site: Pooled Ink
EmilyAnneK17 More than 1 year ago
Alia Quinn's mother just passed away. It's the middle of WWII, and her father was drafted. So Alia and her brother Miles are sent to live in the small, country town where their mother grew up. But Aila soon discovers how much her mother kept secret. This town has Disappearances: little things that vanish permanently, like the stars, smells, and dreams. Every seven years something new disappears, and that anniversary is coming up very soon. Can Aila and her friends discover the cause of the Disappearances? The Disappearances was unusual. It is a historical mystery with some romance and fantasy elements. For the most part, it is the story of a teen girl struggling with her mother's death and the move to a new town that automatically hates her because of her mother's past. Aila makes friends, has crushes, and deals with drama and rejection. She is a typical, curious teenager. All the while, though, she discovers clues as to the reason for the unexplainable Disappearances. The mystery was interesting. The Disappearances is a new and unique idea, definitely magical. So I never really had an idea of how the mystery would be solved. I knew some of the people, items, and documents involved, but the fantasy factor prevented me from predicting the ending. It wasn't the most compelling mystery novel I have ever read, but I give it extra points for being unpredictable and magical. It was really cool how Shakespeare was woven in, also. The author definitely did her research! I recommend The Disappearances as a YA historical mystery with a unique take on the fantasy element. I received a complementary copy of this book. All opinions are my own, and I did not recieve compensation.
Rebecca_J_Allen More than 1 year ago
What if the ordinary things in life suddenly...disappeared? When Aila's mother dies and her father is drafted to fight in World War II, she and her younger brother are sent to live with her mother's best friend from childhood. Aila has met Mrs. Clifton and her son only twice and arrives at her mother's rural home town, Sterling, grieving and hoping to hoping to discover what her mother was like when she was young. Instead she finds whispers and mysteries. Sterling is cursed. Every seven years something disappears. The scents of food and flowers, the ability to see reflections in a mirror or a pane of glass, even dreams. They've been gone for years and aren't returned by crossing the town line. For the inhabitants of Sterling, everyday life comes with a sense of loss over the things that have disappeared and the fear of the next one to go. The only inhabitant of Sterling to ever have escaped the Disappearances was Aila's mother, which is why most people in town suspect that she caused them. The Disappearances takes you to a new world, a town set apart by the Disappearances and the magic residents have found in their search the remedy the affects. Emily Bain Murphy's writing is lovely and Aila will pull into her struggle to fit in in this strange community, her search for the truth about her mother, and her quest to follow clues that will lead her to the source of the curse. The Disappearances will appeal to the literary minded, as Aila follows the clues in her mother's old copy of Shakespeare's works and other classics. I received an Advanced Reader Copy of The Disappearances in exchange for an honest review.
book_junkee More than 1 year ago
I was instantly interested in this premise and was quite eager to get to it. I really liked Aila. She's heartbroken and kind of feisty and I was really intrigued by what was going on. I fully enjoyed being in her head. There are several other characters and a few definitely stood out, but I don't want to ruin anything. Plot wise, it's captivating and slow at the same time. There's a quiet anticipation that I wasn't expecting as each revelation comes sandwiched in between scenes of normal life like school and family dinner. There was a different POV that confused me at first, but eventually I settled into it. And I have an insane and absolute love for what it is, how things get resolved, and the last chapter. Overall, it was something unique and lovely. I can't wait to see other things Emily comes up with. **Huge thanks to HMH Books for Young Readers for providing the arc free of charge**
YAandWine More than 1 year ago
With it's wonderful characters, intriguing mystery, and expertly-crafted plot, The Disappearances had me completely under its spell from the very first page. After her mother's untimely death and her father's deployment in WWII, Aila and her brother go to live with her mother's childhood friend in the seemingly quiet town of Sterling, but it quickly becomes apparent to Aila that the people of Sterling have a dark secret, one that revisits them every seven years. One that just might have been caused by mother all those years ago. It's difficult to discuss the incredible magic that underlies the mystery of this novel without including spoilers, especially since I want to gush over the sheer brilliance of it. But I will say that it expertly maintains the reader's suspension of disbelief while being absolutely awe-inspiring at the same time. The mystery itself is enough to keep you turning those pages late into the night, but what makes it the ideal mystery for us voracious readers is that on her search toward uncovering the mysteries of Sterling, Aila has to follow a series of literary clues left behind by her mother. That's right. LITERARY clues! Have you hit that pre-order button yet?! I loved that this book was set in the 1940s. That was absolutely the perfect setting for this story. I don't think the plot would have worked nearly as well if set during any other era. The tone of the story is so filled with hope, yet includes this undercurrent of melancholy, which rang true with what I imagine that decade would have actually felt like to live through. The way that Emily has written the dialogue of the story also really brought the time period and and characters to life for me. The characters are wonderfully crafted. I was absolutely charmed by Aila and so many of the other characters in this story, while also being equally suspicious of them and the role that they played in the Disappearances. In any kind of mystery novel, having a cast brimming with unreliable characters is so much fun, and Emily certainly nailed that element here. This book was enthralling, heartbreaking, and so much fun to read all at the same time. This is one that I know I'll be thinking about for a long time to come, and I certainly can't wait to see more novels from Emily in the future!
ContemporaryReader85 More than 1 year ago
A page-turning, magical adventure! After Aila and her brother Miles move to Sterling, they soon learn that something’s amiss about the quaint town – things disappearance every seven years. Things like stars, reflections, scents, and the ability to dream. With seven years fast approaching, Sterling is on the verge of losing something even more devastating. Emily Bain Murphy’s atmospheric writing pulled me in and the mysteries of the town of Sterling wouldn’t let me go. THE DISAPPEARANCES will enchant you!
BookPrincessReviews More than 1 year ago
*I received an ARC of this from the publisher - thanks so much for sending me over a copy of this!!* There's just something about magic realism that leaves me going, "Gosh, I've never read a book like that before" after every book I read in this genre. The Disappearances was certainly no exception. I have never read a book like it, and I certainly don't think that I ever will. Combined with its beautiful writing, haunting atmosphere, and wonderfully done plot, I certainly don't think I will see a book that will confound me and intrigue me like this book for a while. First, let's talk about the atmosphere. If a world is done right, it can feel like another character in the novel, and I will say that this setting definitely felt like another character. It was haunting and creepy and full of life. I loved the older time feel (it is set during a World War and has a cool 1950s vibe to it), but it's almost like it doesn't belong in any world that we know. It's set apart in the feeling of it as if it's this brand new place full of enhancement and wonder. I loved this setting where old ideas met new ones, and I couldn't get over how well Murphy created it. I also loved the relationships in this novel. Aila and her brother are mourning their mother, whom they discover much about in the days to come. They realize perhaps they had not fully known their mother, and them coming to grips with that was such an interesting story to unfurl. Aila and Miles were so cute together as well, and their relationship was so realistic. They aren't going to be happy together all the time, and it felt like true family. I also loved their relationships with everyone else in town. In between Aila's friendships with the new people she met to her relationship with the swoony Will to the relationship they both had with Will's family. Everything was beautifully done, and I could practically feel Anna and Elsa giddy with excitement over the family and relationship dynamics (and perhaps how this book got an Anna rating ;)). The mystery behind the story was so intriguing as well. To tell the truth, most all the time, I had no clue where this story would end up. I couldn't figure out the twists and turns that Murphy created and I was surprised each time something new came up. I loved how much Shakespeare was involved, and I thought it was a brilliant combo of just enough clues to be believable and enough to keep me guessing. I certainly didn't expect the ending to be what it did. There was only one small complaint I could make about the novel, and it was the pacing in the beginning of the story. It took me about 200 pages to really, really get into the novel. Before, it just seemed okay and going along strong, but once I got past 200, I was hooked so badly that I couldn't stop myself from reading until the end. That slow beginning just really made me lose some connection at the first part. Overall, this novel was so intriguing, and it's really so different than anything that is out there right now. It's a haunting novel full of interesting relationships, fascinating world building, and so much more. Anna would definitely love this book, and it certainly earns her rating along with 4/4.5 crowns!
Bree Barton More than 1 year ago
Some books are good, some books are great, and some books will change your life. THE DISAPPEARANCES manages to be all three. I can't even quite describe what happened to me when I read this book, but it felt like someone switched on a lamp in a dark room. The prose is knock-your-socks-off gorgeous; every tiny moment is one you want to savor for hours. The premise took my breath away—so original, and carried out beautifully—and the mystery is deftly unraveled with just the right hints in just the right places. I loved the dry wit shimmering on every page. Aila has a wry sense of humor, which makes her all the more lovable. ALL the characters are lovable, even the villains. Every single person in this book is complex and richly drawn. Those are the things make THE DISAPPEARANCES good, even great. But then the book beats its own high standards, weaving together the most profound, heart-shattering truths about what it means to love and to lose. This is a story about grief, loss, beauty, and the invisible threads that connect us. It broke my heart in all the best ways. There's a line that appears more than once, a question posed to one of the characters: "What grows most in darkness?" I'll give you a hint: Aila didn't get it right on the first try, and neither did I. But once we learn the true answer by book's end, it was enough to make me weep. It's weird to say, but this book saved me. It came into my life at exactly the right moment. That lamp is still burning bright inside me—and I hope you see it, too. If you can't see the light? Don't worry: Aila can help you with that. She's certainly done it before!