The Vanishing Game
by Kate Kae Myers
Published by Bloomsbury
Published on February 14, 2012
Source: from the publisher
Review from Goodreads:
Seventeen-year-old Jocelyn follows clues apparently from her dead twin, Jack, in and around Seale House, the terrifying foster home where they once lived. With help from childhood friend Noah she begins to uncover the truth about Jack's death and the company that employed him and Noah.
Jocelyn's twin brother Jack was the only family she had growing up in a world of foster homes-and now he's dead, and she has nothing. Then she gets a cryptic letter from "Jason December"-the code name her brother used to use when they were children at Seale House, a terrifying foster home that they believed had dark powers. Only one other person knows about Jason December: Noah, Jocelyn's childhood crush and their only real friend among the troubled children at Seale House.
But when Jocelyn returns to Seale House and the city where she last saw Noah, she gets more than she bargained for. Turns out the house's powers weren't just a figment of a childish imagination. And someone is following Jocelyn. Is Jack still alive? And if he is, what kind of trouble is he in? The answer is revealed in a shocking twist that turns this story on its head and will send readers straight back to page 1 to read the book in a whole new light.
The Vanishing Game is a creepy, creepy novel, and I mean that in the best way possible. Jocelyn, who was devastated by her twin brother's death in a car accident, begins to suspect that he has faked his death after receiving a cryptic envelope in the mail that could have only come from him. Trouble starts for Jocelyn almost immediately after she arrives back in her old hometown and doesn't let up until the very end. She has to work to convince her old friend Noah that she isn't imagining things, which isn't easy as they didn't exactly part on the best of terms several years ago. They set out to follow the trail of clues left by Jack, which gets increasingly tangled as the story goes on. Of course, it doesn't help that strange things keep happening around Jocelyn. Is she hallucinating because she's afraid and stressed out, or are some of these terrible things really happening?
Myers does a great job of blurring fantasy and reality, making you really question at every turn what's real and what's made up. Additionally, the mystery that Myers lays out throughout the book is top-notch, full of various hidden codes and logic puzzles that Jocelyn and Noah have to work to solve. I could see more enterprising readers trying to work out the solutions to the clues themselves. (I didn't even bother to try. One look at logic puzzles usually sends me running in the other direction.)
Unfortunately, the rest of the book didn't live up to the quality of its mysterious trail of clues and the creepy, reality-bending scenes, especially the ones at Seale House. The dialogue between the characters often felt flat or unrealistic. I'm a long way away from being a teenager, but a lot of the interaction between Jocelyn and Noah, and a lot of Jocelyn's internal thoughts, didn't seem to be worded the way a teenager would speak. Taking aside the supernatural elements of the story, I found many other aspects of the story to be unbelievable -- there's a whole conspiracy theory subplot involving a tech firm that Jack and Noah worked for that just felt absurd to me, and didn't improve as time went on. I definitely didn't like the romance aspect between Jocelyn and Noah, either. She's carried a huge flame for him ever since they were tweens/young teens, and being back together on their version of a treasure hunt has rekindled feelings from long ago. I can get why she'd fall for him -- they both share damaged pasts, and he was her closest friend, next to her brother, and maybe he was the first boy to be kind to her, throughout her chaotic youth -- and perhaps if it were executed better, I would have gone for it. As it was, I didn't find Noah to be that likable of a character, and I wished that the story wouldn't have tried to shoehorn in a romance subplot.
And, of course, there's the plot twist. I haven't read many books lately which have pulled huge reveals at the end which have made me sit back and go "wait, what?!", but The Vanishing Game certainly did that. Given that all the summaries mention this twist, knowing that something big was going to happen is one of the things that help keep me motivated to get to the end of the book, and my perseverance paid off. I definitely didn't figure it out ahead of time, and it really does make you see the whole story in a completely different light.
For interested readers, I would recommend this book for older teens and readers who aren't easily spooked. While the violence isn't graphically described, many scenes are very surreal and creepy, all of the characters have troubled childhoods which aren't glossed over, and there are some on-page deaths that take place.