Review Detail

Young Adult Fiction 194
enchanting YA fantasy/romance
Overall rating
 
4.7
Plot
 
5.0
Characters
 
5.0
Writing Style
 
4.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
 
N/A
BEFORE WE DISAPPEAR is an intriguing YA historical fantasy/romance that takes place in 1909. Told from the perspectives of two young men on a collision course, this is a story of found and dysfunctional family, liars/cheaters in seek of glory, rising from the ashes, and standing up for yourself and those you love.

Jack has been with the Enchantress since she saved him from poverty in NYC when he was little after his mother died. He is a slick thief and has aided her in stealing tricks from rival magicians. He cannot imagine a life away from the Enchantress and her other ward, Lucia. After leaving Paris when another magician begins to expose them for stealing his trick, they head to Seattle to perform at the Alaska–Yukon–Pacific Exposition.

Wilhelm was kidnapped at 4 years old by Teddy (stage name Laszlo), a cruel man who keeps him chained at night and uses his real magical powers to try to make a name for himself as a thief. He has decided to perform as a magician at the Alaska–Yukon–Pacific Exposition, using Wil's powers to enchant audiences. Wil has real magical power in that he can transport himself and others that he touches to other places as long as he can imagine them.

When Laszlo begins making a name for himself and threatening the Enchantress's audience, Jack is sent to discover his secrets. What he discovers is Wil, and Jack is not willing to settle for anything less than Wil's freedom, even if it jeopardizes the life he knows.

What I loved: This is a hefty read and there are a lot of thought-provoking themes to unpack. Wil and Jack were easy to love and really compelling characters. They have both been heavily influenced by the adults who have taken them in, with their own motivations and designs. These dysfunctional families have distorted their view of the world, and as they spend time together, they each begin to unpack all of this and also reconsider their futures. Their romance builds slowly, but it was easy to cheer for them together and see their bond grow.

Themes of the story around dysfunctional family, lies/cheating, cruelty, friendship, found family, defining "home," understanding and embracing yourself, and finding your independence made this a powerful and really thought-provoking read. Although these play out in a unique and imaginative way, many of these themes will resonate with teens who are also thinking about who they are, who they want to be, and what their future looks like. At first, the Enchantress and Laszlo seem somewhat similar - they are narcissists, cheaters, and liars who have brought children along for the ride into their intrigue. Eventually, the differences become clearer and clearer with layers of dysfunction separating them. The book does get dark in places, particularly with the way Wil has been treated, with additional horrors appearing as he opens up, but also discussing psychological warfare, power dynamics, and abuse.

Other secondary characters were also really intriguing, including Ruth and Jessamy. Ruth is a black woman who has become a dancer through a predatory scheme of needing to pay for room and board but never enough to break her contract. She deals with racism at the exposition while also trying to fend off a stalker without going to the police, who would not help her. Jessamy works for Laszlo and uses her veneer of naivete to try to help and thrive without tipping off those that might harm her. She wields misogyny to her benefit and ends up being a really intriguing character. Jessamy and Ruth's romance was also really great, though much of it happens off the page.

The plot was also really clever, and the setting of the exposition was interesting. The way that the ending played out was *chef's kiss.* Characters who seemed to have a redemption arc were not fully redeemed in a way that felt genuine and entertaining. The magic, thievery, and mystery were endlessly compelling.

What left me wanting more: The very end of the book was left a little open. I wanted a full blown happy ending, but it does end with a great deal of hope.

Final verdict: Imaginative, compelling, and full of magic, BEFORE WE DISAPPEAR is a thought-provoking dark YA fantasy/romance that is sure to enchant readers.
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