The Rules For Disappearing, by Ashley Elston
[Warning: There be spoilers here.]
It is hard to overestimate how implausible this plot is. That is not to say that this book is not enjoyable, after a fashion, but it is certainly a very implausible tale and that implausibility at times makes it difficult to feel this novel is as good as it thinks it is. Among the central conceits of this book is that a certain Agent Thomas, who has wormed his way into the confidence of Meg/Anna, is actually a dangerous assassin and drug lord who has murdered in cold blood his former accountant and the accountant’s son, who happened to be the boyfriend of Anna, who happened to have seen him commit the crimes and look for the ledgers that the crooked accountant had cooked on his behalf. And while Agent Thomas snoops around and knows wherever the family is and where they are going (while the federal agents who are supposed to protect them are apparently unaware despite having moved them six times in the course of a year), as well as providing alcohol for Anna’s drunk mother, no one is the wiser until the very end of the story, which strains all kind of credulity. Witless protection indeed.
The novel is, aside from its tortured central conceit, a straightforward enough tale. Meg/Anna is a young woman halfway through her senior year of high school, a witness to a couple of horrible murders and an amnesiac to boot who is plagued by horrible nightmares that end up being memories to her past. While her sister is traumatized by the frequent moves and she has tried to adopt a series of rules to understand why the family is in the situation it is in, her father works to try to keep the family going despite difficulties and the mother is basically useless as a falling-down drunk. Included in the titular rules of this book, which are listed one by one at the beginning of every chapter, are rules that urge an avoidance of building connections as Meg/Anna totally fails to follow the rules and eventually falls in love with the hunky Ethan, who appears to be on to her as her mystery attracts him, to the danger of both of them. Faced with yet another sudden move, Anna remembers what she is looking for and enlists Ethan’s help for a dramatic mission that involves a cross-country trip of truly epic witlessness.
At its core, this book has likable characters. The relationship between Anna/Meg and her sister Teeny is sweet and endearing, and the book shows the sort of toll that frequent moves takes on young people and families. Anna is believable as a tortured soul seeking some sort of escape from the nightmare of her existence, but the ending is ambiguous and points to the existence of a sequel (which I have no plans to read as of yet). But while Anna and Teeny and Ethan and a few others (like the owner of the pizza shop and Ethan’s aunt, as well as a redheaded classmate Catherine) are certainly likable, so much of the plot depends on Anna and her family being ignorant of the fact that witness protection has been compromised that the book is highly unbelievable and not nearly as enjoyable as it would have been otherwise. The author could have made this a better book by going more into the humor, but she appears to have wanted to make a compelling melodrama of the kind that would appear on Lifetime television or something like it, and as a result the book is not quite as good as it would have been had it required less stupidity on the part of its main characters to hold together.