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Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance


Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance

Alison Espach chronicles a decade-and-a-half of grief, acceptance and love in NOTES ON YOUR SUDDEN DISAPPEARANCE, a breathtakingly poignant coming-of-age story told in a singular, unforgettable voice.

Sally Holt is as adorable, annoying and admiring of her older sister, Kathy, as a little sister can be. A sensitive and debilitatingly logical young girl who apologizes to her own clothes when she decides against wearing them and takes everything literally, Sally is just starting eighth grade when we meet her. Kathy is a teenager, just coming into her own and hell-bent on becoming Billy Barnes’ girlfriend. A rising senior and basketball star, Billy is somewhat of a celebrity in their small Connecticut town: movie-star handsome, talented enough to earn a basketball scholarship to Villanova, and a bit of a daredevil in his youth, having witnessed his own father fall and suffer a broken neck.

"Told over the course of 15 years, NOTES ON YOUR SUDDEN DISAPPEARANCE is a seamless blend of genres: wry, humorous coming-of-age; star-crossed love story; and, above all, an achingly honest portrayal of grief."

The year is 1998, and the girls are eager to spend their summer at the pool, ogling Billy, gossiping about the other girls at the pool, and unpacking every glance, joke and comment later from their twin beds as they fall asleep each night. It is obvious from the start that Sally worships her beautiful, popular sister. However, it is equally obvious that Kathy is starting to test the limits of her adolescence, talking down to Sally and declaring --- with eyes rolled toward the heavens --- that everything is boring, and everything, even school, is about sex. The one thing that they have in common is a fascination, a near-obsession, with Billy.

One summer day, Sally grows frustrated with her sister’s inattention and her mother’s endless questions about her shyness and how different she is from Kathy. Desperate to be noticed, she leaps from the diving board and promptly blacks out, waking up to Billy’s face in hyperfocus, the young basketball star having saved her. Billy is immediately drawn into the entire family’s orbit, and before long, Kathy has her wish: Billy is her boyfriend. The divide between the sisters starts to cut deeper, especially as teenage Kathy (cringeworthy in all the best ways) flaunts her nearness to adulthood and her sexual encounters with Billy to Sally, always mocking Sally for her naivety. Frustrated by the dramatic changes in her once-best friend, Sally blackmails Kathy for a ride to school in Billy’s car, a decision that ends with her sister’s blood on the pavement.

As Sally looks back on Kathy’s life and the way it fractured her own, the lives of her parents and, of course, Billy’s, who suffered horrific injuries from the accident as well as his own crushing guilt, Espach draws a vivid, aching portrait of grief and the freedom of moving on. The entire book is written in reflection, with Sally often addressing Kathy as “You” in a way that makes the novel feel heart-stoppingly intimate without crossing the line to voyeuristic. It can be difficult to care about a character who is already being written in past tense, but Elspach immerses readers so expertly in the sacredness of Kathy and Sally’s sisterhood that you almost feel like the plot is being whispered to you from a twin bed across the room, under the glow of stick-on stars.

As the girls grow apart in Sally’s memories, the space she takes up only increases, with Kathy’s death becoming a smothering, suffocating specter on the entire Holt family. While Sally’s mother turns, at various points, to religion, marijuana and an alarmingly prescient psychic, her father turns to alcoholism and rage. With each of them tending their own hurts independently, Sally is left in between, punished for mentioning her sister but punished even more harshly for moving on.

The one constant in Sally’s life is Billy, the only person with whom she can talk about her sister. Because Sally had not even become herself yet when Kathy died, she is trapped in her sister’s shadow. At first Billy seems like a miracle, someone who can guide her through her grief and help her become the woman she was always destined to be. But with Billy intoxicatingly off-limits, and their friendship forbidden by Sally’s family, he also seems like a temptation too strong to result in anything but heartache.

Told over the course of 15 years, NOTES ON YOUR SUDDEN DISAPPEARANCE is a seamless blend of genres: wry, humorous coming-of-age; star-crossed love story; and, above all, an achingly honest portrayal of grief. While maintaining a beautiful, touching, melancholic tone throughout, the book is neither dreary nor depressing, but rather a riveting blend of raw human emotions as seen and expressed through a truly singular voice. Sally’s observations are searing, provocative and often hilarious, and although the shadow of grief hangs over them, so too does the bright, wise-beyond-her-years girl shine from inside them.

While much of the action takes place in the past, Sally’s voice rises and falls, twists and turns like the most suspenseful plot line. Sally is an unforgettable character, perfect for readers who hold a place in their hearts for THE GIRL WITH THE LOUDING VOICE’s Adunni or DEAR EDWARD’s Edward.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on May 20, 2022

Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance
by Alison Espach

  • Publication Date: April 25, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 1250871441
  • ISBN-13: 9781250871442