I came across both The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy and The Memory Trees by Kali Wallace through my monthly Book Box Club subscription. These boxes full of bookish loveliness are imaginative and incredibly well thought out. If you want to find out more, have a look at their website here and their blog is a great place to have a look at past unboxings.
I read the books one after another as I’m really enjoying a themed reading approach this summer. And here the theme is magic -but not in terms of witches, wizards and spells – more of a subtle magic embedded into our world and an element of mystery thrown in for good measure.
I adored The Disappearances in so many ways. It is the story of Aila and her younger brother Miles, who go to stay in the rather mysterious, remote town of Sterling. As their mother has recently died, and their father is called up to serve in the second world war, they go to live with their mother’s best friend and her family. Every seven years something disappears in Stirling such as people’s reflections, the stars and the ability to dream. Aila realises that this is all somehow connected to her mother’s past and sets out to find the truth and stop any further disappearances from happening. There is a rather lovely romance too.
…the gorgeous characters, especially Aila. Each character is individual, there isn’t a trope in sight and there is also a complexity to the characters that makes them feel very real and easy to engage with.
…the World War II setting. The period fitted into the narrative beautifully, the subtle details adding to the richness.
…the theme of searching for belonging and how it feels to be an outsider. Each of the characters searches for their place in the world in their own way; they are united in their longing for human connection. This theme was beautifully explored and really invited the reader to see events and characters from different perspectives.
…the interweaving of Shakespeare and his texts as clues for the mystery. I thought this was brilliant, using snippets from his works to guide the mystery of the disappearances. What a great way to entice young adults into reading Shakespeare!
…the exploration of how much we take for granted in the world we live in. This wasn’t done in a preachy and obvious way, more like gentle nudges to notice the world around you. Imagine not being able to see the stars at night, use colours to create or hear music.
I had more of a mixed reading experience with The Memory Trees, absolutely loving parts of it but also feeling rather confused at times. This is the story of Sorrow Lovegood set against the background of her strong female line of ancestors, who settled in a rather unusual apple orchard many years ago. Sorrow’s mum leads a very alternative lifestyle and struggles severely with her mental health, but Sorrow has her older sister Patience to look out for her until one day Patience dies in a fire. Returning to the mysterious orchard when she is 16, having lived the intervening years with her father, Sorrow is determined to rebuild a relationship with her mother and unlock her memories to find out the truth about Patience’s death.
…the premise of a mysterious family legacy with strong female ancestors. This really intrigued me. There is a beautiful family tree image at beginning of the book to refer to as the ancestors emerge in the book and linked with this is the presence of the orchard, almost a character in itself, which leaves mysterious trinkets for Sorrow to find.
…the exploration of what home is. Sorrow searches for belonging, a theme I always identify with. She feels compelled to return to the orchard and her past, to the memories of her sister, yet this home is also an incredibly difficult place, full of challenges. Sorrow is also very much an outsider, looking in and this aspect was written with great insight.
…the mother/daughter relationship. This is very much influenced by her mother’s mental health and Sorrow’s response to it. The portrayal of Sorrow’s mother is incredibly well developed, she really comes across as a complex character. A character who you can see is ill and who is constantly dealing with her mental health, whose thought processes and emotions you want to understand and empathise with, yet, at the same time also feeling such anger for some of the choices she makes in her role as a mother. It is Sorrow who takes it upon herself/is forced to be the calm and rational one, she is in many ways the parent in the relationship and loses a part of herself in the process. Fantastic character dynamics!
My problem with this book was…
…that I think the author included too many themes so that many were not developed in the detail I craved. There were parts that I didn’t feel connected or that didn’t have enough information for the reader to reach her own conclusions. The stories of the ancestors for example seemed like separate inserts instead of being interwoven in the story with the contemporary characters, meaning I couldn’t quite see what their purpose was. Another example is the hint of a lesbian relationship – this fades out and almost feels like an afterthought, yet it could have added so much to both narrative and character development.