• The Fiction Fox

Review: How to Disappear Completely - Ali Standish

Genre: Middle-grade

Published: HarperCollins, April 2020

Rating: 5/5 stars

“I don’t think happy endings are the truest part of the fairytales. I think they’re just the part people remember. (...) The true part is that there’s always a battle. I don’t think you can know how your story will end, but the ending is always better when you’re willing to fight for it."

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: there is something magical about middle-grade books. Although it’s not my primary genre, it’s without a doubt the one I find the most hidden gems in. Hidden gems like last years August Isle, which made it into the top 5 of my favourite books of the year. And also hidden gems like the 2020 release How to Disappear Completely by the same author, who is quickly rising to the rank of my favourite middle-grade author.

12-year old Emma, feels like her life is losing its colour, and not just as a figure of speech. She discovers her first white spot at the funeral of her grandmother, who was also her best friend. As more and more spots appear and she is diagnosed with vitiligo - a condition that makes patches of her skin lose their color-, her magical adventures with gran are replaced with school bullies and doctor appointments.

But when Emma writes one last story in the journal she shared with Gram, something strange happens. Someone writes back to her, just like Gram used to. Who’s writing to Emma? And just what is Emma’s own story going to be, now that everything is so different?

There’s a quote by Einstein that I love:

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”.

I often feel the same holds true for middle-grade writing. It’s one thing to be able to write about big topics like death, identity, and the fear that comes with a medical condition at such a young age, using big words in literary fiction. It’s something else entirely to do so even better using words that a child can understand. Ali Standish has perfected that art, and that might be some of the highest praise any author can get.

How to Disappear Completely is heartfelt, poignant, comforting and a large part of me wishes that 12-year old me had had a book like this. The other part of me is just very happy that I have it now. If you have a middle-grader in your life: do them a favour and get them this book. And while you’re at it, get a copy for yourself as well. I don’t care how old you are, you are never too old or too “educated” to appreciate this gem.

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