Background: The Year We Disappeared: A Father-Daughter Memoir first caught my eye when I saw it in Bloomsbury's catalog. Not long after that, I included it in my Reviews that Made Me Want the Book feature after Sarah from The Reading Zone gave it a rave review. I read it on the way back from a recent trip to Boston, in one sitting.
Review: The Year We Disappeared: A Father-Daughter Memoir is the true story of a family forced to go into hiding after the police officer father runs afoul of the wrong person. The story is told in alternating first person chapters by the cop, John Busby, and his daughter, Cylin. Cylin was nine when the events of the book took place, and although she writes about them as an adult, she describes them as she experienced them, from a child's perspective. In a sense, it seems arbitrary for this book to be published as young adult nonfiction, since neither John nor Cylin is a young adult during the story. But I do think that the book will be compelling for teens (and adults), while it would be too scary for nine-year-olds to read.
The story begins on August 31st, 1979, on Cape Cod, in Falmouth. Officer Busby is shot in the face on his way in to work for the late night shift at the police department. Cylin shares her memories of what was, until late in the night, a relatively ordinary day. They happened to take some photos that day, and at the end of the first chapter she notes:
"But most of all, I'm happy to have the picture of Dad's car. Because the next time I saw that car, it was in a black and white photo of the Cape Cod Times, shot full of holes. The front window was shattered, the driver-side window completely knocked out. And the driver-side door, freshly painted green, was riddled with shotgun pellets."
There's an immediacy to this description, and to Cylin's subsequent chapters, that makes it hard to believe that the events described took place almost 30 years ago. John's chapters are a bit less direct - he sometimes explores events further back in his past, events which led up to the events of August 31, 1979. But his emotions are even more vivid than Cylin's. For example, describing the moments after he's been shot, he says:
"I'm a big fan of horror movies and Stephen King books, but this kind of scared didn't feel like that. "Scared" isn't the right word for it. There is no word for it. It's a gut feeling when you know you're about to die, and it's horrible."
But he didn't die. He lived, though he was in the hospital for a long time, and required extensive experimental surgery to reconstruct his face. And his family's life changed forever. Even though John knew who had shot him, even though he told his fellow officers who the person was, the perpetrator was not arrested (read the book to understand why). The Busby family had to live in hiding, for fear that the man would come after them again. The remainder of the book describes the aftermath of the shooting, and the changes in the family's life over the next year. A "where are they now" section at the end of the book fills in some details.
The Year We Disappeared is a memoir. As such, there are details that would perhaps not be included in a novel - real life doesn't always lend itself to a tidy tale. For John, especially, writing this book seems to have been a cathartic process. But the book overall is fascinating and frightening. The idea that this happened to real people - that they knew who was after them, but still had to hide - I found terrifying. It's also important, I think, in a world filled with headlines about violent events, to be able delve deeply into the aftermath of a violent act - to explore how it affected the people involved. The Falmouth Police Department certainly doesn't come off looking very good in the book, but that's real life. Corruption exists. I think that The Year We Disappeared is an antidote to the glamorization of violence and corruption, showing the human side. It's must-read stuff. Give this to teens who like thrillers, but also to teens who shun fiction and want books that are true. This book will broaden readers' perspective of the world.
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books
Publication Date: August 5, 2008
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: The Reading Zone, Charlotte's Library, Becky's Book Reviews
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.