When We Vanished:
A Review

I haven’t read a YA or thriller novel in years, but after I started reading When We Vanished, I was surprised at how quickly my reservations about reading a YA thriller flew out the window! I was completely engrossed as I gobbled down each chapter.

The setting is an all too familiar Seattle, from its bustling downtown, to its quiet leafy neighborhoods, to the sprawling green nature-scapes in the surrounding area. The plot feels Seattle too – a shady, unethical mega-corporation contrasting with environmentally conscious, progressive, and affluent citizens. The main four protagonists are diverse and relatable. Instead of zooming in on one hero, Alanna alternates, with each chapter, between characters, providing a lens into the unique experience of all of them, an immensely satisfying approach. This serves to highlight teamwork, community, and collective thinking, rather than the usual individualistic hero-worship archetype we’re normally fed. 

It was clear to me how much research and care Alanna put into developing each character, as they all seemed nuanced and multi-faceted, even the villains. It’s not just a battle between good and evil, it’s more complicated. But it’s not so complicated that it feels inaccessible or wieghed down. It feels like a YA novel, something young people could really dig into and feel inspired by.

There are areas that feel over the top and unbelievable, but Alanna gets away with it because it’s just so fun! These moments of suspended belief verge into the realm of the fantastical or even magical. There are good witches in the woods (or at least that’s how I interpreted them), animal heroes, and always the undercurrent of music that transcends the dark forces. But this is not fantasy or sci-fi. All the harrowing adventures and super-human feats come with very real consequences, keeping us grounded in a world that we all must fight to preserve.

It’s worth noting that the author is white, while her main characters are Asian-American and Persian-American. Alanna’s portrayal of different racial minorities feels careful, genuine, and well-researched. However, I’m white like her, so my perspective is limited in that regard. Perhaps most importantly, Alanna has revealed on her blog that she is open to criticism, and that she’s trying to stay conscious of the many ways that racism functions, sometimes even within the most well intentioned white authors’ work.

Overall, I am totally ready for more! Alanna’s dedication to this project has really paid off. When We Vanished is an entertaining, solid, and hopeful book.