"Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance" | Reviewed by Chris Stuckenschneider
Updated: May 22
"Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance,” By Alison Espach, is a gripping, coming-of-age novel that peels back the layers of grief, illustrating how a sudden loss forever changes a family, and those close to the deceased.
The story details the growing-up years of Sally and Kathy, sisters who are as close to each other as can be, even sharing a passion for the same boy, cute, popular jock Billy Barnes, who completely captivates them.
Sally, the younger sister by three years, narrates at age 28, reflecting back on her life. Her parents, once carefree and in love, are now middle-aged, her mother needy and morose, her father choosing to spend his latter days quite the opposite, as a vibrant senior. Sally is engaged to a man she knew when she was a girl, after she’s set aside any remaining affection, or hopes she has, of being with Billy, her sister’s longtime boyfriend.
With the first line of the book readers are aware something tragic is going to happen, “You disappeared on a school night,” Sally states. The “you,” she refers to is Kathy, a revelation made clear as Sally addresses her sister throughout the story, like the two are having an intimate conversation, this after Kathy disappears when the sisters are 13 and 16.
Sally directs her narrative to Kathy as a way of unloading her grief and guilt, to explain away the feelings she’s had for Billy that have caused her great anguish, like she’s betrayed her sister. As Sally makes her book-length confession, readers get to know her parents and the stages of grief they go through, as well as the years-long angst Billy suffers, blaming himself for one foolhardy mistake that he believes cost so many so much.
While “Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance” is melancholy, at times hard to stay with it’s so sad, it’s rewarding too, beautifully written, and honest in its portrayal of adolescence—an exhilarating, confusing conundrum of uneven steps. I finished this book happy that I did, satisfied and content with its conclusion.