“Watch Me Disappear” by Janelle Brown

Watch Me DisappearJanelle Brown’s Watch Me Disappear is the sort of summer read that’s dishy enough to enjoy at the pool or beach, but is well-written enough that you won’t feel like you wasted your precious vacation time on yet another Gone Girl rehash. This is a thoughtful examination of family and identity, as well as a genuine page-turner.

Berkeley mom Billie Flanagan disappears while she’s on a solo hike, leaving her devastated husband Jonathan and teenage daughter Olive behind to deal with her loss. Despite extensive searching, Billie’s body was never found (some random detritus, like a boot and a phone, were recovered). Not having 100% solid proof that Billie is actually dead makes the situation even more fraught. Jonathan quit his highly demanding job in order to write a book and to be available to his daughter, but financial pressures—Billie’s life insurance policy requires a death certificate, which is difficult to procure without a body—are driving him to drink. Then Olive starts having visions in which her mother is still very much alive.

Both Jonathan and Olive make discoveries about Billie and her mysterious and complicated past, which she had never been particularly open about. Jonathan also has to decide how to handle Olive’s insistence that her mother is not dead and is, indeed, trying to communicate with her. He also falls into a relationship with Billie’s best friend, one of the few people who knew her before she became a wife and mom.

All of the revelations seem true to the characters instead of simply piled on for maximum shock effect, making Watch Me Disappear one of the most compelling thrillers I’ve read in a while.

Note: Watch Me Disappear will be published on July 11, 2017. Thanks to Spiegel & Grau and NetGalley for the review copy.

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