Published by Bloomsbury Children's on June 7th, 2016
Genres: young adult, Thrillers
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Six were taken. Eleven years later, five come back--with no idea of where they've been.
Eleven years ago, six kindergarteners went missing without a trace. After all that time, the people left behind moved on, or tried to.
Until today. Today five of those kids return. They're sixteen, and they are . . . fine. Scarlett comes home and finds a mom she barely recognizes, and doesn't really recognize the person she's supposed to be, either. But she thinks she remembers Lucas. Lucas remembers Scarlett, too, except they're entirely unable to recall where they've been or what happened to them. Neither of them remember the sixth victim, Max. He doesn't come back. Everyone wants answers. Most of all Max's sister Avery, who needs to find her brother--dead or alive--and isn't buying this whole memory-loss story.
The Leaving was a huge personal reading risk; I haven’t experienced a lot of luck with contemporary novels as of late. But the more I read over the blurb, the more I was pulled into the mystery. Kindergarten kids disappearing and then showing back up ten years down the road, with amnesia? What really sold me was the cover. When I really looked at the artwork, and the meaning behind it, I went ahead and took a chance on the novel. My curiosity won out over my intuition. Well, I can say that after reading The Leaving, it is true that ignorance is sometimes bliss.
The thing that hobbled the book from the start was the characters. The more I read, the more I was put out by the horrible nastiness of the general cast. These kids were traumatized, and the biggest reaction was “You are lying, and you are all horrible.” They were kidnapped, on the first day of public school, and returned at the age of 16, and the reaction that book puts forward is cattiness and the worst of people. It honestly read, to me, as victim blaming, and even one of the main characters was the worst offender. I can’t feel invested in a story that seems to love to heap the blame onto the victim, children, mind you, and just brush it off as adding to the plot and try to explain it as, “well, everyone felt like a victim.” That’s pathetic and weak.
The only character I ended up really caring about was Scarlett. Watching her try to reconnect with a mother that she can’t even bring herself to call “Mom” was the most fascinating part of the entire plot. The concept behind Scarlett’s story was compelling just on its own. What happened if you disappear for a decade, and come back to find that the people you were suppose to miss just ends up rubbing you the wrong way? What do you do when you’re trying to put yourself back together, bur your mom wants to tell you that the aliens kidnapped you, and drags you attend abduction meetings? How do you process that she and her significant other want to make a buck off of your own ordeal? How do you fight on two fronts in a personal war? And then Scarlett finally confronting her own mother, the very adult that should make her feel safe, was heart wrenching and. The best scene overall in the book was watching her mother stumble through the why on her beliefs, and WHY she let herself fall into the hole of supernatural to explain away her daughter’s disappearance. This was a powerful scene on how people deal with a crisis, and sometimes, it takes people to places that are unconventional. But coping isn’t a one size fits all process.
My interest in the characters stopped there, however. Avery, the main character who is looking for answers on her missing brother, is soon used for romance fodder, a plot pusher, and a love triangle apparatus. On top of all of this, she’s downright crappy. She betrays the trust of some of the teens that went missing by running her mouth, she is extremely self centered, and all she can think about is dating really hot Ryan: “Oh, I wanna date this guy that JUST GOT BACK AND IS TRYING TO SORT OUT HIS LIFE – SCREW THE WHOLE SIDE LINE STORY ABOUT MY MISSING BROTHER.” She was such a horrible cartoonish character of a “too-tough-to-care” teen. It isn’t even about Avery as an unlikable character. Kristen wasn’t the typical nice, friendly, quirky female MC, and I still enjoyed her more than I did Avery, who strung along her other boyfriend, made her best friend feel like crap for the fun of it, and was mentally nasty towards Scarlett because she was with SWOONYRYAN.
The entire mystery was weak as well. I would have rated it higher if the entire thriller portion was well worth reading the book. When the ending hit, it still never really made sense, and I was put out that some of the evidence, such as things uttered when the kids were young, was just waved off and shrugged away when it couldn’t be properly explained outside of “to further the plot.” It just seemed that the mystery and the resolution was not organic and felt forced.
Basically, the story was a half baked mystery for the sake of wish fulfilling romance. The entire plot was just weak, and most of the driving force was melodramatics and angst. The thriller part came second to romance, since this was just a cheap ploy to write about ending up with the hottest guy, with a bit of tokenism lesbianism for the diversity checkmark. The multiple POVs didn’t mesh well, and only on of the side plots really grabbed me emotionally. The Leaving left much to be desired.
Thank you to Netgalley and Bloomsbury for the opportunity to review this title.