Saturday, June 19, 2021

Book Review: Fantasy Bleeds Into Reality for One Family in ‘The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S. (as told to his brother)’ by David Levithan

New York Times bestselling author of noted YA novels like Every Day and co-author of the Lily and Dash series (yes, the one the Netflix show is based on), David Levithan is back with his first middle grade (ages 8-12) novel, The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S (as told to his brother). In it, Levithan hits the ground running with a story that takes the familiar tale of a character who is mysteriously whisked off to a magical world by falling through a hidden door and flips it on its head. The official summary reads:

Aidan disappeared for six days. Six agonizing days of searches and police and questions and constant vigils. Then, just as suddenly as he vanished, Aidan reappears. Where has he been? The story he tells is simply. . . impossible. But it’s the story Aidan is sticking to.

His brother, Lucas, wants to believe him. But Lucas is aware of what other people, including their parents, are saying: that Aidan is making it all up to disguise the fact that he ran away.

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When the kids in school hear Aidan’s story, they taunt him. But still Aidan clings to his story. And as he becomes more of an outcast, Lucas becomes more and more concerned. Being on Aidan’s side would mean believing in the impossible. But how can you believe in the impossible when everything and everybody is telling you not to?

A fantasy trope, told from the perspective of modern day reality, The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S (as told to his brother) draws readers in from the beginning with the question of what actually happened to Aidan. The fantasy tale Aidan spins upon his return, about visiting and then being expelled from a land called Aveinieu, a place with green skies and strange animals like maddoxes, seems to be nothing more than a made up excuse for disappearing. Places like that don’t exist. Right?

Lucas isn’t so sure, but his narration tells the story of Aidan’s mysterious disappearance and reappearance from a perspective that is firmly based in reality, because whether Aidan is telling the truth or not, his little trip has some big effects not only on his life, but the lives of the people around him. Everyone is so focused on getting life to return to normal after Aidan’s return, but nothing can ever really return to normal for Lucas, because no matter where he went, Aidan left Lucas behind. From the first chapter Lucas makes it clear that he and his brother were (at that point Aidan is still missing) very close, and he struggles to believe that Aidan would choose to leave without him.

Levithan presents readers with a story about some of the real world problems that come from kids running away from home, but frames them within this reality where Aidan didn’t mean to run away and leave his brother and parents behind. In this, the story is more one of family dynamics and the experience of a young boy whose brother went missing than it is a fantasy novel. The reader only ever hears of Aveinieu in snippets as Lucas draws the details out of Aidan in his attempts to understand what happened to his brother. However, the interactions, positive and negative, between the brothers, between the boys and their parents, and between Lucas and his Aunt Brandi are at the heart of the story. Ultimately it is the story of what happened after Aidan returned, and how the family moved on.

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This book manages to capture the wonder of a fantasy world through those glimpses of Aveinieu while still maintaining a strong foothold in reality when the two worlds collide. Masterfully weaving the two worlds together into a story that had me reading the entire book in a single sitting, Levithan creates an engaging story that alludes to fantasy favorites like The Chronicles of Narnia while never losing sight of the goal: to tell the tale of what that story looks like from the other side of the wardrobe. Levithan tackles this unique perspective with his usual artistry, as Lucas’s narrative voice clearly mirrors the progress of the story from his choppy, almost frantic tone in the beginning to a more coherent, calm tone in later chapters. This helps set the pace for the story, and not only that, but by using Lucas’s voice Levithan manages to do something that not many middle grade novels successfully do, which is to include a trans character whose entire story is not build upon the fact they they are trans. Lucas clearly identifies his Aunt Brandi as once having been his mother’s younger brother, but never once identifies her as anything other than his aunt who he goes to for advice.

The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S (as told to his brother) is exactly the book I wanted to read this year. David Levithan has outdone himself with a story that crosses fantasy with reality to perfection. This book immediately grabs your attention from Lucas’s description of what happened while Aidan was gone in chapter one and holds onto it through he final words of wisdom in chapter 45. Although the target audience for this book is children from about 8 to 12, children and adults alike will enjoy the way Levithan flipped a familiar story inside out to turn it into something new and unique. 

The book will be available at bookstores everywhere on February 2, or you can pre-order a copy here.

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LeeAnn
LeeAnn is children's librarian who joined Nerds and Beyond in 2020 as a way to stretch her writing skills and connect with others who have the same pop culture passions as she does. She loves music, reading (obviously), and any TV show that can grab and hold her attention. Currently some of her favorite things to nerd out over include Supernatural, Prodigal Son, Louden Swain and Percy Jackson (books, theater, or upcoming show - lets leave the movies out of it).

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