☆☆➹⁀☆ 5 stars☆➹⁀☆☆
What it’s about:
It’s been a year since Billie Flanagan—a beautiful, charismatic Berkeley mom with an enviable life—went on a solo hike in Desolation Wilderness and vanished from the trail. No body—only a hiking boot—has ever been found. Billie’s husband and teenage daughter cope with her death the best they can: Jonathan drinks, Olive grows remote.
But then Olive starts having waking dreams—or are they hallucinations?—that her mother is still alive. Jonathan worries about Olive’s emotional stability, until he starts unearthing secrets from Billie’s past that bring into question everything he thought he knew about his wife. Together, Olive and Jonathan embark on a quest for the truth—about Billie, their family, and the stories we tell ourselves about the people we love.
Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown is an absolutely riveting mystery. One mystery is where is Billie Flanagan, mother of Olive and wife of Jonathan. The other mystery is who is Billie Flanagan.
Watch Me Disappear starts nearly a year after Billie Flanagan disappeared while hiking solo in the Desolation Wilderness. The story is told in third person narrative. Olive’s perspective is told through her daily experiences and thoughts, while Jonathan’s thoughts are conveyed through the memoir he is trying to write about his life with Billie. It is not only an interesting story layout, but an interesting way to convey how Jonathan and Olive struggle with not just the disappearance of a loved one but of the mind-boggling revelations of Billie’s complex web of secrets from prior lives.
One of Billie’s past lives comes back to haunt her through the reconnection with a friend named Harmony. At first Harmony seems like a positive, good-hearted friend (think Suki from the Gilmore Girls television program), but as the story unfolds, Harmony’s actions and intentions become increasing questionable. Harmony quickly becomes a very untrustworthy, unlikable character.
Being a teenager is hard enough, but being a somewhat odd teen whose mother is presumed dead is even harder. As the one year anniversary of her mother’s disappearance approaches, Olive becomes convinced that her mother is not really dead, and that leads her to some heavy soul searching about how their relationship clearly lead to her mother leaving her. The emotional gauntlet that Olive must navigate is exhausting.
More exhausting is Jonathan’s path. He needs closure. He wants Olive’s belief that her mother is alive to be true, but if Olive is right, why did his wife leave him and their beloved daughter. Jonathan also questions his role in his wife’s disappearance—whether it is a decision to foolishly hike alone or a decision to disappear from their lives. It is unfathomable until he starts to dig deeper into Billie’s laptop and the dwindling family finances.
As Jonathan digs deeper, he finds that his wife didn’t fabricate her past as much as she bended the truth to make her look better. As people from her past are pulled into the story, Jonathan gets a better, fuller picture of who is wife really was. Through his search he along with the reader questions how much he truly knew about his wife—or anyone for that matter. He questions the foundation of his marriage.
Part mystery, part character study, Watch Me Disappear is a page-turner. Did Billie runway? If so, why? Does she want to be found as Olive believes? Did she disappear to push Jonathan and Olive out of their comfort zone in order to reinvent her family? Did she disappear to avoid dealing with the parts of her reality of which she was ashamed? Or did she simply fall to her death while hiking? Not only did the big reveal in the epilogue shock me, but the little revelations throughout the story about all the characters amazed me. Watch Me Disappear is a fantastic read about yearning, loss, and new beginnings.