Vanishing Girls: Reading Lauren Oliver Is Like Watching A Beautiful Disaster

Vanishing Girls is written by Lauren Oliver. It was published in 2015 by Harper.

Dara and Nick used to be inseparable, but that was before—before Dara kissed Parker, before Nick lost him as her best friend, before the accident that left Dara’s beautiful face scarred. Now the two sisters, who used to be so close, aren’t speaking. In an instant, Nick lost everything and is determined to use the summer to get it all back. But Dara has other plans. When she vanishes on her birthday, Nick thinks Dara is just playing around. But another girl has vanished, too—nine-year-old Madeline Snow—and as Nick pursues her sisters, she becomes increasingly convinced that the two disappearances may be linked.

Well, Vanishing Girls is oodles better than Panic, even if all of Oliver’s contemporary novels contain the same formula and sound remarkably similar to each other. “Oodles better,” however, still doesn’t mean it’s a fantastic book.

But positives first: even though the twist at the end was spoiled to me, thanks to the Library of Congress tags, I really enjoyed seeing how Oliver crafted the dialogue to get to that twist. I experienced this book like someone would who had read it before and knew what was coming: looking at all the little hints and foreshadowing that Oliver throws in (mostly in the dialogue, but in other things as well) and enjoying them.

I also still really like Oliver’s writing, as evidenced by the fact that I’m not really a huge fan of any of her novels but still read her new ones anyway.

But still, I think Oliver depends way too much on stale formulas and cliché romance. I’m starting to really hate the “I’m in love with my best friend” trope; not because it’s a bad one but because it’s so overused. Oliver also used that trope in Panic and I was hoping for something more original.

Oliver also has the really old “teenagers are party animals” trope that is so prevalent in YA lit today. Nick, at least, was a subversion, but I didn’t like the fact that the book treated that as if it meant something was wrong with her. Dara drinks and does drugs and the response is “oh, she’s just acting out” while Nicole doesn’t and the response is “oh, man, something’s wrong with her. You should be worried about her because she’s not getting drunk or smoking pot.” Those reactions right there, to Dara’s and Nick’s actions, are why I cannot stand contemporary YA lit. most of the time. Please, stop normalizing dangerous and emotionally, mentally, and physically damaging behavior. That’s such a disastrous message.

Rating: 2/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Swearing, underage drinking, drug abuse, sex trafficking, sexual situations

Genre: Realistic, Young Adult

All morning, the talk has been of Madeline Snow. Her disappearance has sparked a three-county-wide manhunt. Every newspaper is plastered with her image, and the flyers have just multiplied, sprouting like fungus over every available surface.

Mom can’t get enough of it. This morning I found her sitting in front of the TV, her hair half-straightened, clutching her coffee without drinking.

“The first seventy-two hours are the most important,” she kept repeating, information I’m sure she’d regurgitated from a previous news report. “If they haven’t found her yet…”

Overall Review:

Vanishing Girls is better than Panic, but not by much. Oliver relies too much on stale romance tropes and her depiction of teenage behavior and the overall content of her book is actually enraging to me, and it’s why I don’t read a lot of contemporary YA lit. However, Oliver’s writing is as good as ever and her use of foreshadowing is great, as well.

You can buy this here: Vanishing Girls

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Panic: What Is This Nonsense?

Panic is written by Lauren Oliver. It was published in 2014 by Harper.

Summary/Blurb:

“Panic began as so many things do in Carp, a poor town of twelve thousand people in the middle of nowhere: because it was summer, and there was nothing else to do.

Heather never thought she would compete in Panic, a legendary game played by graduating seniors, where the stakes are high and the payoff is even higher. She’d never thought of herself as fearless, the kind of person who would fight to stand out. But when she finds something, and someone, to fight for, she will discover that she is braver than she ever thought.

Dodge has never been afraid of Panic. His secret will fuel him, and get him all the way through the game; he’s sure of it. But what he doesn’t know is that he’s not the only one with a secret. Everyone has something to play for.

For Heather and Dodge, the game will bring new alliances, unexpected revelations, and the possibility of first love for each of them—and the knowledge that sometimes the very things we fear are those we need the most.”

What I Liked:

There were two things I disliked about this book. The first was that I found the premise to be completely unbelievable. Panic is some sort of secret, Hunger Games-type danger game that made absolutely no sense. At least Oliver doesn’t glorify the absolutely idiotic things the kids did (like Russian Roulette. Do these people have no brains at all?) I find it hard to believe that a game like that went on for so long. I also found the lack of adults in the book to be unrealistic, but maybe Carp is supposed to be this town where only dysfunctional families live, which moves me to my next point.

The second thing I disliked about the book was the dysfunction of every single person. Yes, I get it, the appeal right now in YA is to those readers from dysfunctional or unstable families who have terrible things happen to them. But every single person in the book, except possibly Bishop but even that’s stretching it, had some trauma or dysfunction attached to them. Even Natalie, who could have been the stable one, had OCD. Yes, I get it, it’s empowering to have hopeful endings for people who suffer these situations or whatever the current argument states for why every single protagonist needs to suffer in some form. But it’s also horribly depressing to read about. Can we please have some stability to balance out the instability, please?

I also found the tigers to be a ridiculously cheesy addition. Okay, it certainly sounds cool to have the main protagonist walk up to a tiger and put her hand on its head and be all victorious, but in all honesty, that tiger should have realistically torn her hand on off. There’s no way a scared predator like that would not attack.

I mentioned in my reviews of Oliver’s previous books that I really liked her writing, but sadly I didn’t notice it this time. I’m not sure whether or not it was because I disliked the premise so much from the start.

Rating: 1/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Swearing, kissing, sexual situations, and young adults purposefully putting their life in danger.

Genre: Realistic, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

Heather forced herself away from the tank and inched forward onto the wooden plank, which had been barely secured to the ledge by means of several twisted screws. She had a sudden image of wood snapping under her weight, a wild hurtle through space. But the wood held.

She raised her arms unconsciously for balance, no longer thinking of Matt or Delaney or Bishop staring up at her, or anything other than all that thin air, the horrible prickling in her feet and legs, an itch to jump.

~Oliver 41

Overall Review:

I couldn’t get into Panic from the start, due to what I found to be an incredibly hard to swallow premise and incredibly stupid stunts done by teenagers who apparently were not thinking at all through the entire book. I also found everyone’s dysfunction depressing and the tiger thing was unrealistic.

You can buy this here: Panic

Requiem: I Dislike Love Triangles, But A Good Finish To A Good Dystopian Trilogy

Requiem is written by Lauren Oliver. It was published in 2013 by Harper. It is the third and final book in the Delirium trilogy. I reviewed the first two books here and here, respectively. Oliver’s website can be found here.

Will contain slight spoilers for all three books.

Genre: Dystopian, Young Adult

Summary/Blurb:

“While Lena navigates the increasingly dangerous Wilds, her best friend, Hana, lives a safe, loveless life in Portland.”

~Library of Congress

Passages/Quotes:

“You really do look lovely, Hana,” my mother says.

“Thank you,” I say. I know I look lovely. It might sound egotistical, but it’s the truth.

This, too, has changed since my cure. When I was uncured, even though people always told me I was pretty, I never felt it. But after the cure, a wall came down inside me. Now I see that yes, I am quite simply and inarguably beautiful.

I also no longer care.”

~Oliver 13

“The river—” Raven starts to say as we get closer, but Pippa cuts her off.

“We heard,” she says. Her face is grim. In the daylight, I see Pippa is older than I originally thought. I assumed she was in her early thirties, but her face is deeply lined, and her hair is gray at the temples. Or maybe that is only the effect of being here, in the Wilds, and waging this war. “It isn’t flowing.”

“What do you mean?” Hunter says. “A river doesn’t stop flowing overnight.”

“It does if it’s dammed,” Alex says.

For a second there’s silence.

“What do you mean, dammed?” Julian speaks first. He, too, is trying not to panic. I can hear it in his voice.

Alex stares at him. “Dammed,” he repeats. “As in, stopped. Blocked up. Obstructed or confined by a—”

“But who dammed it?” Julian cuts in. He refuses to look at Alex, but it’s Alex who responds.

“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” He shifts slightly, angling his body toward Julian. There’s a hot, electric tension in the air. “The people on the other side.” He pauses. “Your people.”

~Oliver 177-178

Cover Art

Warnings: Violence, swearing.

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Rating: 3/5

What I Liked:

Oliver’s writing is, as usual, beautiful. I wish more authors would write like her.

The whole “Story of Solomon” thing with Alex was so adorable. Also, loved the way Oliver handled the love triangle (well, mostly…). It wasn’t so much of a love triangle as confusion, hurt and uncertainty. Great job breaking the mold (slightly), Oliver.

Grace! You’re back! I missed you!

Overall, it’s a good finish to the series, and the series itself is pretty decent. It’s definitely above Condie’s Matched trilogy. I would re-read this sooner than I would re-read Matched (also, if you’re curious as to my ranking of dystopian trilogies, it goes: Hunger Games, Divergent, Delirium, Matched. Those are all the ones I’ve read in full (minus Divergent, the third book of which comes out in October).

There’s going to be a Delirium TV show (EDIT: Nope, sorry. Cancelled)!

What I Didn’t Like:

I wish we could have gotten a better look at the inner workings of this society. Although, now that I think about it, maybe we did in the first book and I’ve just forgotten.

Okay, so, instead of resolving the love triangle like most books with love triangles do, Oliver decided to not resolve it, and left Lena like Katniss in Catching Fire and the beginning of Mockingjay, which means that we are left with no clue as to whether it’s Julian or Alex. I mean, sure, it can be implied that it will be Alex, and it probably most definitely is Alex, but it’s far more complicated than that, as Lena herself said! What about Julian? What happens with him?

Also, what the heck happened to Hana? Is there no resolution for her either? Does she get away? Where does she go? Does she meet up with Lena again? Why do people like ending books with unresolved issues? At least with Mockingjay we got an epilogue, no matter what people thought of it.

Oh, and I didn’t much like the way Oliver ended the book. Not with the characters tearing down the wall, because that was cool, but the whole three paragraphs after that that talked about “tearing down your walls.” That was a bit…twee? Corny? Something like that.

Overall Review:

Requiem continues the beautiful writing of Delirium and Pandemonium and finishes the trilogy fairly well. I had a few problems with the trilogy as a whole and with this book in particular, particularly the way Oliver chose to end it, but it is a decent series and probably one of the better ones out there.

Coming Up Next: The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Berk

Pandemonium: Hurricane Sandy Can’t Get Me Down And Neither Can This Book! And Contrary To What This Comparison May Imply, It’s Not A Disaster At All

Pandemonium is written by Lauren Oliver. It is the sequel to Delirium (my review can be found here). It was published in 2012 by HarperCollins. The third book, Requiem, comes out in the spring of 2013. Oliver’s website can be found here.

Genre: Dystopian

Summary/Blurb:

Spoilers if you haven’t read Delirium.

“After falling in love, Lena and Alex flee their oppressive society where love is outlawed and everyone must receive “the cure”—an operation that makes them immune to the delirium of love—but Lena alone manages to find her way to a community of resistance fighters. Although she is bereft without the boy she loves, her struggles seem to be leading her toward a new love.”

~Library of Congress Summary

Passages/Quotes:

“I’m pushing aside the memory of my nightmare, pushing aside thoughts of Alex, pushing aside thoughts of Hana and my old school, push, push, push, like Raven taught me to do. The old life is dead.

Mrs. Fierstein gives me a final stare—meant to intimidate me, I guess—and turns back to the board, returning to her lecture on the divine energy of electrons.

The old Lena would have been terrified of a teacher like Mrs. Fierstein. She’s old, and mean, and looks like a cross between a frog and a pit bull. She’s one of those people who makes the cure seem redundant—it’s impossible to imagine that she would ever be capable of loving, even without the procedure.

But the old Lena is dead too.

I buried her.

I left her beyond a fence, behind a wall of smoke and flame.”

~Oliver 3

“I open my eyes into pain. For a second everything is swirling color, and I have a moment of total panic—Where am I? What happened?—but then shapes and boundaries assert themselves. I am in a windowless stone room, lying on a cot. In my confusion I think that perhaps I’ve made it back to the burrow, and found myself in the sickroom.

But no. This room is smaller and dingier. There are no sinks, and only one bucket in the corner, and the mattress I’m lying on is stained and thin and without sheets.

Memories return: the rally in New York; the subway entrance, the horrible vision of the bodyguards. I remember the rasping voice in my ear: Not so fast.

~Oliver 129

Warnings: Swearing, kissing, violence.

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Rating: 3/5

Cover Art

What I Liked:

I love Oliver’s writing. It’s beautiful and poetic and amazing to read.

I really like Lena as a character. She’s really matured and grown since the first book, which makes tons of sense considering what’s happened to her. She also doesn’t just get over Alex in the blink of an eye; he’s still very much a part of her even when Julian comes into the picture.

I’m a bit conflicted about the ending; let me say what I liked about it here and go into what I didn’t in the appropriate section. The ending made me very eager for the last book. I’m curious to see what Lena does and what happens to the setting as a whole. I’m excited to see how the series will end.

International Cover Art–An example of how cover art rarely has any relation to what’s in the book. This isn’t even what Lena looks like, and what’s with the flower and the birds in the background?

What I Didn’t Like:

Julian is a bit…flat. I didn’t connect with him much at all. He just seemed to be put into the text as a plot device.

I’m not sure what exactly Oliver is trying to say with the excerpts of The Book of Shhh that are found in the book. Does writing something in the view of a government that’s supposed to be wrong and evil imply that what’s being said is wrong and evil? Or am I just reading too much into it? I also don’t like what Oliver has done to religion in the book. Both of these issues gave me feelings of unease when I read them.

Some of the swearing in the book seems completely unnecessary. Is it really necessary to use swear words for descriptive purposes in non-dialogue? It threw me out of the book every time it happened.

Now, the bad part of the ending: ugh, how contrived. How cliché. Of course that happened. Of course that means that there’s going to be a SPOILER love triangle END SPOILER. Of course another dystopian novel has gone in this direction (edit: Oliver has said on her twitter account that it will be not exactly a triangle, whatever that means. Interesting.)

Overall Review:

Pandemonium is a worthy follower of its prequel, Delirium. It’s full of fast-paced action and beautiful prose; however, there are still a few things that unfortunately deter from the quality: the development of Julian as a character, for one, and the ending that, while being very wham-quality, is also very contrived.

Coming Up Next: Crossed by Ally Condie

Delirium: Predictable, But The Ending Has Punch And The Writing Is Great

Delirium is written by Lauren Oliver. It is the first in a trilogy. It was published in 2011 by Harper Collins. Oliver’s website can be found here.

Genre: Dystopian

Summary/Blurb:

“Lena looks forward to receiving the government-mandated cure that prevents the delirium of love and leads to a safe, predictable, and happy life, until ninety-five days before her eighteenth birthday and her treatment, when she falls in love.”

~Library of Congress Summary

Passages/Quotes:

“Things weren’t always as good as they are now. In school we learned that in the old days, the dark days, people didn’t realize how deadly a disease love was. For a long time they even viewed it as a good thing, something to be celebrated and pursued. Of course that’s one of the reasons it’s so dangerous: It affects your mind so that you cannot think clearly, or make rational decisions about your own well-being. (That’s symptom number twelve, listed in the amor deliria nervosa section of the twelfth edition of The Safety, Health, and Happiness Handbook, or The Book of Shhh, as we call it.) Instead people back then named other disease—stress, heart disease, anxiety, depression, hypertension, insomnia, bipolar disorder—never realizing that these were, in fact, only symptoms that in the majority of cases could be traced back to the effects of amor deliria nervosa.

~Oliver 2-3

“I love you. Remember. They cannot take it.”

~A quote from Lena’s mother; mentioned on several pages

Cover Art

Warnings: Violence, kissing, swearing

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Rating: 4/5

What I Liked:

I love Oliver’s writing. It’s very beautiful, very visual.

I spoiled myself about the ending of the book, but it still had very nice punch even though I knew what would happen. It certainly was not anything I was expecting. Oliver broke the YA /dystopian “rules” in that regard (although we’ll have to see what she does in the following two books).

The setting was very interesting. Oliver really has a unique concept; whether or not she succeeded (more on that in the next section) is another matter.

Lena’s character growth is noticeable and she’ll probably grow even more in the next books, something that I’m looking forward to.

I hope we see more of Grace in the next two books. I loved her, especially her part at the end.

What I Didn’t Like:

The plot was fairly predictable. But then again, in most dystopians they are. The ending, at least, was different and unexpected, as I mentioned above.

Alex is too perfect. Then again, we’re seeing him through Lena’s love struck eyes.

What is up with Hana? At the beginning she was mysterious and her true thoughts and feelings were unknown, but then she developed into this blah, one-dimensional character without any mystery at all.

Both covers for the novella/short story “Hana,” which gives more insight into the character of Hana–and only adds to my confusion about her. This is the third way that Oliver has portrayed this character (1. mysterious, 2. blah, 3. spoiler).

We’re never told when this book takes place, but it’s safe to guess that it happens years into our future. As such, I would expect to see some improvements in technology. But there is virtually none, except for the mysterious cure (which isn’t that technologically/futuristically advanced, since they use just lasers and needles). Oliver essentially just writes a futuristic book and gives it the technology of this decade, although truth be told, it should be at least a little bit more advanced. This bothered me throughout the entire story. I’m not expecting flying cars or hoverboards, but something inventive and futuristic would be nice. Some mention of anything.

The setting seemed a bit unrealistic, as well (helped by the lack of futuristic technology. It gave it a “real” feeling that other dystopians don’t have as much of, but the setting is not “real,” obviously, which gives an odd mix of real/not-real and leaves a disconnectedness). I mean, is society ever going to declare love a disease? Not the way it portrays love now, it’s not. Also, I didn’t like the implications behind the brief history she did give us about how love was declared a disease.

Nitpicky: The Book of Shhh is redundant, since you’re essentially saying The Book of Safety, Health, and Happiness Handbook.

There are about a thousand more things I would like to say in both sections, but I can’t because of spoilers. Darn. I guess I’ll have to address them as appropriate when I review the other two books…

Overall Review:

Delirium’s plot is predictable and its setting, while interesting, has a few problems in reference to realism. However, the writing is beautiful and the characters are engaging. I’m looking forward to reading the next two books, Pandemonium and Requiem.

Coming Up Next: Perfect Escape by Jennifer Brown

Before I Fall: Same Song of Content, Third (or Fourth or Fifth) Verse

Before I Fall is written by Lauren Oliver. It was published in 2010 by Harper Collins. It is her first novel. Oliver’s website can be found here.

Genre: Realistic, Tough Read

Summary/Blurb:

“Samantha Kingston has it all: the world’s most crush-worthy boyfriend, three amazing best friends, and first pick of everything at Thomas Jefferson High—from the best table in the cafeteria to the choicest parking spot. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life.

Instead, it turns out to be her last.

Then she gets a second chance. Seven chances, in fact. Reliving her last day during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death—and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing.”

~Inside Flap

Cover Art

Passages/Quotes:

“Then all of a sudden there’s a flash of white in front of the car. Lindsay yells something…and suddenly the car is flipping off the road and into the black mouth of the woods. I hear a horrible, screeching sound—metal on metal, glass shattering, a car folding in two—and smell fire. I have time wonder whether Lindsay had put out her cigarette—

And then—

That’s when it happens. The moment of death is full of heat and sound and pain bigger than anything, a funnel of burning heat splitting me in two, something searing and scorching and tearing, and if screaming were a feeling it would be this.

Then nothing.”

~Oliver 80

“Maybe you should come away from the road,” I say, but all the time in the back of my head, there’s an idea growing and welling, a horrible, sickening realization, massing up and taking shape like clouds on the horizon. Someone calls my name again. And then, still in the distance, I hear the throaty wail of “Splinter” by Fallacy pumping from someone’s car.

“Sam! Sam!” I recognize it as Kent’s voice now.

Last night for the last time…you said you would be mine again…

Juliet turns to face me then. She’s smiling, but it’s the saddest smile I’ve ever seen.

“Maybe next time,” she says. “But probably not.”

~Oliver 324

Warnings: So, so many. Swearing, sex, drinking, smoking, death, suicide, drugs. I could go on and on.

Recommended Age Range: 16+ (hesitantly)

Rating: 3/5

What I Liked:

…well.

Good theme of redemption. Sam’s struggle to make sense of this Groundhog Day-esque thing that’s happening to her, and her attempts to change it, are very well done. You can really see her change as a person.

Also, it was quite well-written.

Oh, and Sam and Kent are cute. Too bad she’s, you know, dead.

What I Didn’t Like:

The content.

This should be old news by now, but in case there are some first-timers floating around here, I’ll once again reference my reviews of Willow and Ashfall and reiterate: I don’t like teenage sex. I don’t like teenage alcohol or drug abuse. And this book was chock-full of it. Way more than Willow, way more than Breaking Beauty or any other YA novel I’ve reviewed on this blog so far.

I read the book completely (I didn’t stop reading once I encountered the hated teenagers-go-down-the-road-of-destruction-and-it’s-taken-as-“normal” ideas). I liked the book (despite its content); more specifically, I liked the theme, Sam’s development, and the way the book ended. But I despised the content. I do my best to be objective, but in cases like this, it’s very hard. It was a good book, but I thought some parts were unnecessary.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll definitely read some more Lauren Oliver. She proved herself to be a talented writer. But this was just a bit too much for me.

You’re a very good writer, Lauren Oliver; I just don’t like your content

Overall Review:

Before I Fall has a good theme of redemption and a good show of character development, but there are other books that have the same theme with less destructive decisions involved. I hesitated to even recommend this for sixteen and up.

Coming Up Next: Drowning Instinct by Ilsa J. Bick