BookBrowse Reviews Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance by Alison Espach

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Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance

A Novel

by Alison Espach

Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance by Alison Espach X
Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance by Alison Espach
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  • Published:
    May 2022, 352 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Liv Pasquarelli
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About this Book



A heartbreaking story of grief spanning 15 years, narrated as a letter to a lost sister.

Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance will make you ache for a loss you didn't experience as you relate through the losses you have. With remarkable accuracy, Alison Espach writes about grief through the eyes of a young girl. The perspective of our narrator, Sally Holt, evokes both laughter and tears. A coming-of-age story told through a long letter spanning over 15 years, this book will carry you through the pages of your own experiences growing up, and make you think about the things that tear a family apart, as well as the things that sew them back together again.

The story begins by introducing Billy Barnes, a young boy wonder who is both brave and stupid enough to jump off a roof during recess in 5th grade. From then on, both Sally and her older sister Kathy are in love with Billy. The beginning of Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance follows Kathy the way younger sisters often do: with admiration and an annoying desire to be included.

The girls spend summers at a local pool where Billy works at the snack bar. It's there that Kathy and Billy spark a romance, and he becomes her first boyfriend before the summer is over. But Sally's tendency to act as her older sister's shadow leads to a traumatic accident that takes Kathy's life when Sally is 13 and Kathy is 16. The accident leaves Billy seriously injured and Sally untouched physically, but forever altered emotionally.

The loss of a child causes an explosion in a family, leaving them irrevocably changed through the experience of collective grief that threatens to tear them apart. Sally continues to talk to her sister after her death, picking up each piece of shrapnel and examining it with care. She speaks to Kathy with honesty and humor, remarking on the strangeness of the funeral, the days, weeks and months after, and the only person who seems to understand what she is going through: Billy Barnes.

Sally records the details of her life with Kathy in mind, sharing everything with her, just like she did the 13 years of her life before her sister's death. She explains, "I knew you'd want to know everything about your death, the same way you wanted to know if Billy was talking to Lisa at the pool or if you had spinach in your teeth or if your hair had become frizzy after a summer storm."

As Sally grows up, she never disconnects from Kathy. Each chapter follows important events in her life, whether mundane or significant, from her mother purchasing funfetti cake mix for Kathy's birthday after her death, to her own high school graduation. Sally continues to inhabit the bedroom the two once shared, feeling the echos of her sister everywhere, and never hesitates to share her inner thoughts in the most candid and honest way imaginable.

Sally continues to run into Billy Barnes long after Kathy's death, sometimes on purpose, sometimes by accident. As she gets older, her connection to him becomes undeniable and absolutely essential to her healing and recovery from the trauma.

Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance probes the void left behind after a loved one dies. The author's words never wince and they never look away. Sally's voice develops as she grows older, her vocabulary matures with her, and her astute observations on the world paint a vivid picture in the reader's mind. Alison Espach writes beautifully with spare language that keeps the reader immersed in the story. She writes the way a younger sister writes to her older sister, the way someone writes to the person they love most in the world.

This book makes one thing clear: love and loss are deeply intertwined. It can be an overwhelming realization, but it's something we can all relate to. For that reason, Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance will work its way into your heart and never leave.

Reviewed by Liv Pasquarelli

This review first ran in the June 8, 2022 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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