This turn-of-the-20th-century romance between teen boys is wonderfully refreshing, creative, and fun. With a cool setting, fascinating plot, legitimate danger, and genuine characters, Before We Disappear is a fantastic story. Unlike many queer romance stories set in modern times that find their characters meandering about in their teen or college years starting new jobs, flings, or schools, the action here is in a fresh and unique setting. It feels like a different world (like one in 1909), where people talk differently and there's a palpable sense of a United States that's quite young. This allows the characters to shine, develop, and feel real. While many books in this genre spend great amounts of time inside the heads of the main characters, this one feels like a real novel and not just a series of conversations, expressions of desire, and stream-of-consciousness expositions. Indeed, there's some magic in this novel, and not just in the story.
The romance between Wilhelm and Jack unfortunately feels a little shallow and undeveloped. The two are supposed to have an immediate connection, but this seems to be entirely based on surface-level appearances. Of course, their relationship is affected by the fact that Wilhelm is held prisoner the entire book and Jack can only see Wilhelm at certain times. The depth of their relationship is limited to their occasional and relatively brief encounters. While the novel touches only briefly on racism, sexism, and anti-gay dominant culture, the central problem of the plot retains its weight, severity, and gravity. For some readers, the abuse Wilhelm endures under Laszlo might be too much.