Publisher: Simon & Schuster.
Hardcover, 400 pages.
Release date: January 28th 2016.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Source: Received from publisher for review.
Reviewed by: Arianne.
Hattie's summer isn't going as planned. Her two best friends have abandoned her: Reuben has run off to Europe to "find himself" and Kat's in Edinburgh with her new girlfriend. Meanwhile Hattie is stuck babysitting her twin siblings and dealing with endless drama around her mum's wedding.
Oh, and she's also just discovered that she's pregnant with Reuben's baby...
Then Gloria, Hattie's great-aunt who no one previously knew even existed comes crashing into her life. Gloria's fiercely independent, rather too fond of a gin sling and is in the early stages of dementia.
Together the two of them set out on a road trip of self-discovery – Gloria to finally confront the secrets of her past before they are wiped from her memory forever and Hattie to face the hard choices that will determine her future.
How Not To Disappear is exactly the kind of book you’d expect from a writer carving out a niche in hard-hitting contemporary UKYA, and Clare Furniss’ storytelling voice is stronger than ever. Her début novel, The Year of the Rat, has left its fingerprints all over this follow-up: it has the same distinctive writing style, down-to-earth backdrops and subtle discussion of themes, from first love to loss to ideas of class and back again. Fresh, straightforward and bittersweet, this tale of mouthy teenagers, ardent friendship, hard truths, family strife and unreliable exes is classic contemporary UKYA from start to finish.
Hattie – clever, ambitious, and more naïve than she’ll admit even to herself – will win hearts and have you rooting for her from the very first page. Brave, indecisive, kind, hapless and sometimes too loyal for her own good, she’s more Holly Smale’s geeky Harriet than Non Pratt’s gobby Hannah, but she’s complex and reads like she could be a real teenager out there somewhere. Best friend Kat is a breath of fresh air, frank and cool under pressure, with one of the most important subplots in the novel, and I wished we could have seen more of her.
Meanwhile, I spent most of the book wanting to punch Hattie’s friend-turned-love-interest Reuben in the face. He’s a brilliant, scene-stealing character, but he’s an awful human being.
Reuben is witty, confident and charismatic, but he’s also reckless, insecure, entitled and completely self-centred. His ‘I grew up unloved’ and ‘look at me my parents are loaded and never talk to me’ whining is no excuse for the way he treats the fiercely loving Hattie. She deserves better – way better.
Teen pregnancy is a fairly well-travelled YA road – and a particular mainstay of British teen fiction since before Jacqueline Wilson – so if you have to wonder if How Not to Disappear has anything new to say, and it’s true that if you’re looking for anything revolutionary, you won’t find it here. It’s not particularly sex-positive and sadly falls back on the trope of its heroine dealing with everything alone and, in this case, her long-time friend but on-again off-again boyfriend (but mostly off-again, considering he ran from his feelings for her) never being held accountable, even though we know – somewhere behind that selfish mask - he cares for her. Hattie’s small, supportive, slightly chaotic family play a prominent role in the book but seem to completely forget that she may need help dealing with Reuben, and not once does any other character try to make him face up to the realities of his decisions. Reuben himself refuses to face his responsibilities, and the whole cast is complicit in letting him get away with it, too.
How Not To Disappear isn’t for the faint of heart, but Furniss packs a whole lot of drama into these 400 pages. She knows what her readers are waiting for, and oh does she make us work for it; she has a phenomenal deftness of touch and every bombshell, every showdown or reveal, is in exactly the right place. The plot is strong and it makes for an incredibly satisfying read. There are some brilliant dashes of warmth and humour and I loved Hattie’s emails – chatty, sharp, enthusiastic and utterly charming.
The trend of past-echoing-future storytelling has been cropping up everywhere of late and in a clear attempt to capitalize on The Year of the Rat’s success with crossover audiences, modern teenager’s Hattie’s story is intertwined with that of her elderly great-aunt Gloria. I was far more interested in Hattie and her adventures, but it’s a valiant and unusual choice for a YA novel. There are some tough issues hidden here, too. I just wish the rest of the book had been just as unusual: I found I’d guessed most of the major twists before they happened, and while the story is jam-packed, I wanted it to be less predictable and more surprising.
In short: How Not to Disappear has all the hallmarks of traditional UKYA: fantastic characters, down-to-earth settings and a distinctive, simple writing style. For fans of Non Pratt, Siobhan Dowd and Jenny Downham, this is a warm, worthwhile take on a well-travelled YA road. It’s not perfect, and I would’ve liked more surprising or unpredictable twists, but Clare Furniss knows hard-hitting fiction when she sees it and delivers drama in spades.