The Vanishing Season

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Vanishing Season Book Poster Image
Teen romance, ghost mix in serial-killer/coming-of-age tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational value

Maggie's a good student, but Liam's father asks her about European authors she's never read such as Thomas Mann and Tolstoy.

Positive messages

Strong messages about friendship, loyalty, dealing with life's challenges and injustices the best you can, and looking out for those you love.

Positive role models & representations

Aside from the offstage serial killer, there are no really bad people here. Maggie is studious, thoughtful of her parents, and careful in planning the future; she and her friends land in ethical dilemmas but try to make the best of them (Pauline talks Maggie into saying Pauline is with her when she's sneaking off to meet Liam). Her parents also are cheerful and optimistic after years of economic trouble and give Maggie plenty of love and support. 

Violence

Despite the fact that there's a serial killer at work, there's no gory description; the survivors of failed attempts escape and tell their tales. Some characters have lost loved ones who died before the story begins, and not all of them survive.

Sex

Some intense kissing but no graphic descriptions. Teen couples sleep together, swim, and take saunas together without some or all of their clothes, but they're not described as having sex.

Language

Brief references to butts.

Consumerism

Various products are mentioned as part of scene-setting: Teens eat Cheetos, watch Netflix, shop at 7-Eleven, and lament the lack of a cell-phone signal. Pauline makes Maggie a Grumpy Cat collage.

Drinking, drugs & smoking

Maggie's parents let her have a little alcohol on a festive occasion.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that there's a serial killer on the loose in The Vanishing Season, preying on teenage girls and terrifying the townsfolk in a woodsy community on the shores of Lake Michigan. Teen couples kiss passionately, sleep in the same bed, and enjoy swims and saunas together in various states of undress, but if they have sex, it's never explicitly stated. There's no gore and little really troublesome material in this genre mash-up: part teen romance, part coming-of-age tale, part murder mystery. And -- oh, yeah -- there's a ghost, too. Popular author Jodi Lynn Anderson presents misdirection galore as the story unfolds. Some readers will be reaching for the tissues, and others will be screaming, "WHAT???"

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What's the story?

High school senior Maggie Larsen, currently homeschooled, is working hard at not being high-maintenance for her parents as the family goes through major life changes. Formerly a highly paid bank executive in Chicago, her mom has been forced to take the only job she could find, in a small Wisconsin town on the shores of Lake Michigan. To studious, driven Maggie, it's only a bump in the road until she gets to college, lands a high-paying job, and never leaves the city again. But soon Maggie and her parents have new things to worry about, starting with the serial killer who's murdering local teen girls and terrifying the town. Maggie makes new friends in her neighbors, rich-girl Pauline and poor-boy Liam, who've been inseparable pals since childhood, leading to a complex relationship. Meanwhile, a nameless ghost whose relationship to all this isn't clear -- even to itself -- hovers over the action.

Is it any good?

This won’t be every teen girl's dish, but the mix of heartfelt teen romance, ghost story, serial-killer saga, coming-of-age tale, and lurking tragedy will find an appreciative audience.

Red herrings abound, the plot threads converge uneasily at times, and the characters are often straight out of central casting. But author Jodi Lynn Anderson gives Maggie, Pauline, and Liam enough resonance with real adolescent concerns (from star-crossed love to worrying about college) to make readers care about them. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why tales of killers in the woods are so popular. What's the appeal? How does this story compare with other killer-on-the-loose stories you know?

  • Do you think you'd prefer living in a small town in the woods to being a city dweller? Does this story make you feel any differently about it?

  • Do you think the ending should have tied up all the plot elements differently? If so, write the ending you'd like better.

Book details

Themes & Topics

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For kids who love ghost stories and teen romance

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