The Rules for Disappearing by Ashley Elston
Publication Date: May 14, 2013
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: witness protection program, secrecy, multiple identities, mystery thriller
Format read: ARC via NetGalley from Publisher. (Thanks!)
Summary: Meg Jones’ family is in the Witness Protection program. Meg isn’t her real name; it’s the sixth identity she’s had to assume as they’re relocated to Louisiana. She’s not sure why they’re in the program, but she’s determined to find out. And this time she’s not making any connections that will hurt to leave behind when they’re relocated the next time.
You know those books that grab your attention when you read the summary because you think, “Wow! I’ve never read anything about that topic before” therefore, you must, must read the book because it’s new and exciting? That’s how I felt about The Rules for Disappearing. Meg Jones (nope, not her real name) and her family are in the Witness Protection program. In less than a year, she’s been moved six different times and assumed six different identities. Her newest relocation has landed them in a small town in Louisiana. She has to pretend she moved there from Arkansas (though she doesn’t know a thing about it) and she’s forced to chop off her long, blonde hair, give it a bad dye job, and wear brown contacts that hide her blue eyes.
Meg doesn’t have the slightest idea WHY her family is in the program; she only sees how it’s affecting everyone. Her mom, once a casual drinker, is now a full-fledged alcoholic. Her dad refuses to acknowledge her mom’s drunkenness while her little sister, Mary, is slowly withering away, only a ghost of her happy-go-lucky self remaining. Meanwhile Meg is creating boundaries for her new placement — no making friends, no joining clubs or extracurricular activities, no boyfriends — nothing that will cause her heartbreak when their inevitable next-move spontaneously occurs. (Witness Protection gives them zero warning; they just show up and remove them immediately.) Meg is also beginning to feel a little skittish — she can’t help but glance over her shoulder because she’s afraid someone’s following her. Is it her imagination or is her family in severe danger?
When I began The Rules for Disappearing, I possibly expected something that was a lighter take on being in the program — how Meg adapted to each move and what it was like moving constantly. I really enjoyed the depth Elston explored — the fear of being stripped away, the unknowns, the distrust, the loss of knowing who you are, and all the chaos and confusion. All of this added up to a really well-written read that sometimes had me sitting on pins and needles, anxious for the next break in the story. For a good while, Meg has absolutely no idea why her family is on the run. What are they hiding from? She guesses her father did something to monopolize their life, but she’s just not sure. With each and every bit of information she learns, the story gets just a little bit creepier.
There were times I definitely felt like I shouldn’t have been reading The Rules for Disappearing at night. I swear thriller music was playing in my head — the dunna dunna dunna tune was on loop while I crazily tried to solve the mystery of what they were running from and how to get her family out of the situation they were in. Some scenes were downright eerie, I tell ya — the kind where the hair on the back of your neck stands on end. Major kudos to Elston for never allowing me to anticipate when the next big reveal was coming. I loved that everything wasn’t easily solved when the story was at its climax either. (YIPPIE for not making the resolution easily fixable!)
Full disclosure? One thing I do find myself lingering on is the ending. I mostly like how things wrapped up, but there’s just something about the ending that has me questioning whether or not I missed a big clue in there. I almost have this need to reread the story so I can determine whether or not I’m okay with the conclusion. I’m not quite sure if it was done this way because Elston has plans to continue the story or if it she wanted us to close the book with goosebumps still on our arms, a little freaked out. (I do see on Goodreads there is a Rules for Disappearing #2 in the works, but I don’t know if that’s a continuation of the same story/idea.) Regardless, my end-of-the-story hesitation doesn’t take away from the thrill ride that was The Rules of Disappearing. I still definitely, definitely believe those of you who are interested in being slightly creeped out should consider picking this one up!