‘How to Disappear’ by Ann Redisch Stampler: A Blood-Rush-to-the-Head Type of Thriller
Note: Mild spoilers for How to Disappear below.
How to Disappear, from the author of 2012 mystery Where It Began, is a blood-rushing-to-your-head type of standalone psychological thriller.
Told from the perspective of two teens named Jack and Nicolette, the gripping story weaves back and forth as a complicated cat-and-mouse game unravels, spanning the U.S. When a woman is killed behind Nicolette's house, she realizes she must disappear — and Jack is tasked (or rather, forcefully threatened) to track her down and kill her.
Nicolette Holland, as described many times, is a rule-bending (OK, breaking) 16-year-old cheerleader with zero impulse control. She also has managed to win the affections of her whole school and her seemingly sweet stepfather Steve, who is the accountant of Very Bad crime boss Karl Yaeger.
A murder happens in Nicolette’s woodsy Ohio backyard, so she skips town, changes her appearance drastically, gets a job, skips town again, changes her appearance more, and gets a new, safer job. The plan is to repeat this ad nauseum until she’s 25 and unrecognizable.
For a large chunk of the story, we don’t really get her side of what went down in her backyard. Did she kill the woman? Was she a witness? Why exactly is she on the run? These questions will tug at you for most of the book, but the answers are worth it, and Stampler drops a few breadcrumbs if you know where to look.
Despite all of Nicolette’s identities, and too many names to keep track of (one of them, Bean, totally should have stuck around for longer), we get a lot of the Real Nicolette. She’s cool, sarcastic, spunky, admires with Xena, Warrior Princess – and also not really remorseful for anything, like, ever. Which can either be seen as uber-confidence, or a startling “it’s me or them” mentality, which she brings up multiple times. The main takeaway for Nicolette though, is that she loved her old life, and she’s willing to go to extreme lengths to get it back.
Then there’s Jack Manx. On the verge of graduating high school, Jack is way more likable of a character than Nicolette (mostly because he does seem to have a moral compass, despite the whole "plan to kill a cheerleader" thing). The son of an infamous and deceased Vegas hit man, and the brother to a less-notorious thug currently in prison for armed assault, Jack has done everything he can to shed the Manx family name. But being a straight A-student, Boy Scou, or star athlete doesn’t help him when his brother Don orders him, from prison, to take down Nicolette for the Yaeger family because she killed a woman and may know things about the Yaegers that she shouldn’t. And if he refuses? The remaining Manxes, including the nurturing lawyer mom who raised him, could “disappear” in lieu of Nicolette.
Jack is no hit man, and he is certainly not prepared for the task of taking Nicolette down (though he doesn’t know that at first). Luckily for the story, not only does he spend 100% of the time conflicted about his entire situation, but he also happens to be a seriously bad hit man, and many, many things go wrong before anything starts to go right for him. The best/worst wrong/right thing that he has going for him? The fact that he and Nicolette fall for each other, when they’re busy being slightly different versions of themselves, “J” and “Cat.”
Jack and Nicolette’s romance drives most of the story, giving them both difficult choices and making this mystery the ultimate Will They Won’t They – especially for Jack. Will he kill Nicolette? Or won’t he?
We also get a few moments between the two from both perspectives (which is pretty much all I wonder about when I’m reading a multiple POV book, anyway), and they’re really revealing – the way Nicolette and Jack each view a single moment, or how they think they said something versus how it was interpreted was fascinating and well done without being repetitive at all.
Stampler’s got a great writing style full of witty, realistic banter, and her sardonic tone gives life to the ebb and flow of the overarching myster(ies). We see Jack and Nicolette’s snarky and insecure inner monologues, as kids that are struggling with the law and all of life’s gray areas, and we get so much of both of these characters — especially since there are so few supporting characters for the bulk of the book.
The pacing of this book was solid, and the action definitely keeps you on your toes. There are brawls, violence, guns, knives, Sopranos-style mob jargon, lies, plots, murder, and all the fun you could ever want in a YA thriller. Stampler doesn’t hold back, and every step leads Nicolette and Jack to question their ethics as they each make consequence-loaded choices, mostly for each other.
Laced with humor and two teens faced with impossible tasks, How to Disappear will not disappear from your mind once you’ve put it down. The ending especially, is twisty, clever, and downright delicious. You won’t see those last few lines coming.
Release date: June 14, 2016
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Genre: YA Thriller/Romance
PopCrush rating: 4.5/5
I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to JKS Communications for providing it to me!
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