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How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found, by Sara Nickerson

Updated on February 21, 2016

"How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found" is a book full of activity. Nickerson does a great job with descriptive passages, but never sacrifices the action for it. If I were to try to recap everything that happens in this book, I would probably exhaust you. I know that I would exhaust myself.

The backstory alone is pretty tiring. "How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found" is the story of two protagonists -- Margaret Clairmont, the daughter of the widowed Elizabeth (also known as "Lizzie") and elder sister to Sophie; and Boyd (it is unclear whether that is his first or last name), who is apparently an only child of parents who seem, from what we can tell, to be into experimenting with lifestyles. At the time of this book, they are dabbling in macrobiotic dieting.

Both Margaret and Boyd are misfits. Margaret does not fit in at the private school she attends. She has a taste for gory images, with a special fondness for the idea of packs of wild chihuahuas attacking people. Boyd's obsession is with a gory, hand-drawn, otherwise unpublished, comic book series called "Ratt," which prominently features an empty mansion that is next door to Boyd's own house. Boyd has read nearly all of the comics, and actually has many of them in his possession. The librarian at the library that houses them has run out of room for them and entrusted them to Boyd. The only issue he has never seen is the first one.

The "Ratt" comic book series is about a young boy who at adolescence metamorphosed into a humanoid rat. The only name this character is given is "the Ratt." The Ratt also controls an army of actual rats. One of the recurring characters is "the Drowning Ghost," who surfaces every full moon in search of a new pair of eyes, since the fish eat his eyes every month. The Ratt lives in the empty mansion that is next door to Boyd's house and the plots seem to revolve around the Ratt protecting the innocent and getting revenge against people who have hurt both him and those he is protecting.

The house from the "Ratt" series is what brings Boyd's and Margaret's stories together. Margaret finds out that her mother owns the house, which neither she nor her sister has ever seen before, when their mother takes the girls out to the house to put a "for sale by owner" sign on the property. Margaret and Sophie's father drowned four years earlier. When they see the house, Margaret notices that it is on the beach and comes to the conclusion that this may be where her father died.

Lizzie has taken her husband's death particularly hard, and is clearly suffering from pretty severe depression -- she goes to work, comes home, and goes to bed. Then on weekends, she wakes up long enough to take the girls grocery shopping and to the laundromat on Saturday, and then on Sunday she wakes up for a few hours and watches nature programs on television.

At the suggestion of her friend Tina Louise, Margaret makes the trip to the house on her own in hopes of solving the mystery of her father's death. While she is there she meets Boyd, who tells her Ratt's story. Margaret also finds that someone is living in the house. Together, Margaret and Boyd untangle Margaret's family history and set Margaret's family free of it.

This book is told from three perspectives -- first person perspective on the part of Margaret, third person for Boyd, and in cartoon panels from the perspective of Ratt. I found this actually to be a fascinating way to tell the story, even if it might be confusing for younger readers.

One of the things that really struck me about this book was the way Nickerson uses names. We find out Margaret, Sophie, and Lizzie's last name almost incidentally, through the address on the package to Lizzie. We find out that their father's first name was Jack in a similar fashion. The teachers that we meet at Margaret's school are not given names, they are only known as "Mr. Homeroom" and "Mrs. P.E." and her classmates have first names, but no last names. Boyd also never is given a last name (unless, of course, "Boyd" is his last name, in which case he is never given a first name), not even in the scenes when Margaret and Sophie meet his parents. And, of course there is Ratt, who is only ever known by that name, and we never find out what name his parents gave him.


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