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The Vanishing Act
Every night Minou leaves her room for the lighthouse tower, where she knits as long as she can stay awake, as long as her cold hands can manage.
The Vanishing Act has a subtle magic, while being at the same time down-to-earth and philosophical. This is Mette Jakobsen‘s first novel, and it is not quite like anything I have read before. I believe it really is a book for all ages (well, maybe 12 and up), so it will be a matter of taste, rather than age. Just as it will appeal to some adults and not to others, some teens will be enchanted, others baffled. Personally, I am attracted to character and plot-driven novels. On first reading, this book was just not my cup of tea. On second reading it won me over.
The Vanishing Act has much to recommend it: an almost mystical sense of place; a charming narrator, simultaneously naive, wise and determined beyond her years; and more than one mystery. What happened to Minou’s parents during the war? How did they find the island? Why is Priest afraid of the dark? Most importantly — how and why did Minou’s mother disappear? What became of her? Is she still alive? Did she simply tire of the limits of life on the island? I love the fact that it is left to the reader to imagine so many of the answers.
The Vanishing Act tops the September 2012 Indie Next List and is a great favorite of Erin Morgenstern (author of The Night Circus), whose blurb graces its cover and who writes about it on her blog, where she shares the Australian and UK covers (lovely!).
Adult/High School–Minou, 12, begins her fablelike story when she discovers the body of a boy not much older than herself washed up on shore. Her father carries him inside, leaving windows open wide so the freezing air will preserve him until the next scheduled delivery boat. Minou and Papa live on a tiny, isolated island with only Priest; Boxman the magician; and Boxman’s dog, No Name, for company. Papa is a philosopher who lives by reason and logic alone. Having survived an unidentified war hiding in a root cellar, he moved to the island to seek the absolute truth. Minou’s mother arrived later, in a small boat with only a red suitcase and a peacock. She refused to speak of the war. Mama was fanciful and artistic, painting the walls of the house with colorful murals and wearing feathers in her hair. She believed in the imagination and would visit Boxman often because magic helped her remember that the war was over. Together with Minou and No Name they created a circus. The morning after their performance Mama disappeared. Minou’s narration weaves back and forth between the past and the present, when the boy’s death seems to push Minou and Papa toward facing their loss. This short novel holds little action, but is full of whimsy, questioning, and a sense of wonder mixed with hints of hard truth. There is a satisfying current of imagination versus truth throughout. Which helps us to better cope with the horrors of war or the loss of a loved one? The curious setting, spare language, eccentric characters, and air of mystery will entrance teens who enjoy the novels of Yann Martel and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. —Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City
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About Angela Carstensen
Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.
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