The Leaving is a suspenseful and intriguing novel, written by Tara Altebrando.
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… find. Scarlett comes home and finds a mum she barely recognises, and tried to be the person everyone expects her to be. 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 answer. Most of all Max’s sister Avery, who needs to find her brother — dead or alive — and it’s buying this whole memory-loss story.
The Leaving was definitely one of the most thrilling books I’ve read all year. Not only did it draw me in from the very first page, but it refused to let me go. At the end of every chapter I always thought: Just one more. It’s only 1am. One more chapter won’t hurt. Oh look, there’s only eight pages until the next chapter. … So I may have repeated that more than once… Until I finished the whole novel. It was utterly addictive and I was unable to put it down. Yes, it may have been around 3am when I finally finished reading it and yes, I may have regretted my life choices the next day, but there’s something so satisfying at finishing a good book in the early hours on the morning, when everyone else is asleep and it’s just you, alone with your thoughts and the existential crisis now looming over you like it does at the end of every fantastic piece of prose. It’s that feeling I live for. And it’s that feeling I got from The Leaving.
The thing I loved most about The Leaving was how utterly absorbing it was. I was completely entranced, desperately turning page after page to eventually find out the truth about what happened. While the ending was a bit of a let down and I felt it wrapped up too quickly, that doesn’t mean that the process of getting to that point was any less enjoyable. My heart was constantly hammering in my chest as I was left on the edge of my seat, watching the characters go on wild adventures in the hope of piecing together their fractured memories.
I also adored the messages about the importance of memory and childhood this novel contained. Below the dominant story of these six teenagers being kidnapped lay a more subtle mediation on what memory actually is, and what it means when you have none. Not only was this interesting to me because I’m studying memory in my psychology class at the moment, but because it made me recall my own childhood memories and it called into question why I remembered some aspects of my kid days and not others. It made me realise that we’re nothing without our memories. It also made me realise that I remember way too many embarrassing things about my childhood which I’d rather forget.
However, I did feel let down in some areas. As much as I loved the suspense and the tension and the desperate need I had to find out what happened in the end, this novel’s flaws must be acknowledged. The first of which was pretty major for me — the characters. I felt like there was no substance to them. Their voices all sounded the same and I couldn’t forge a connection with any of them. While some were unlikeable, others were just plain boring and unoriginal. If it weren’t for the thrilling plot, I’m not sure I would have made it through this novel. The Leaving is definitely a plot-driven novel, so if you’re looking for complex characters with real flaws and true aspirations, perhaps this isn’t the book for you.
But let me get something straight: I don’t think it was the author’s fault. I honestly feel like she wrote herself into a bit of a plot-hole — or, I suppose you’d call it a ‘character-hole’. The teenagers that went missing have no recollection of their past, except for a few early memories and then fractures of their time away. So you’d think that these people would have to start from scratch, right? Redevelop their personality and find out who they were again? Form the characteristics that made them a unique person and not just a carbon copy of all the other characters in the novel? In that way, I can understand why these people didn’t feel fully-formed and I wasn’t really able to forge a connection with them. However, that doesn’t change the fact that I adore well-written characters and I would have really loved to have seen that here.
The Leaving is also written from different points of view follows the lives of six teenagers, and let me just tell you, it’s as hectic as it sounds. Although this novel mainly focusses around two of the returned teens — Lucas and Scarlett — the others are still present and never cease to add confusion to my mind which is already filled with questions. I think that it was beneficial to only hear from these two characters a lot of the time, but six is an insanely large number of main characters to have and be expected to keep track of. If these people already didn’t have much of a personality, understanding all six of them and being expected to differentiate between the voices of all of them would still be a nightmare. To me, it was just so disappointing that what could easily have been my favourite YA mystery of this year was let down by the characters. I definitely still enjoyed it, but not to the extent I could have, which was sad.
Let’s finish on a more positive note, shall we? Another thing I actually liked about this novel was the unique writing style. You won’t fully understand to what extent the writing style is different from anything else until pick up a copy and skim through the pages. Think Illuminae, but less black ink. And no, it’s not just a low-budget version of that series we all know and love. Some pages only have one word on them. Others seem normal, except a single word might be s p a c e d out or written wonkily. In that way, it was very entertaining and definitely kept my interest. However, I was a bit unsure what these ( / // / / ) random things were or meant. Nevertheless, it was definitely very unique and I enjoyed turning each page to see how it was written. I feel like the way the words were physically typed out added to the meaning and helped us to gain a deeper understanding into what the author was trying to communicate. And I was left wondering: Did the author have to format the novel like that? It would have been a nightmare to type it out like that! Ahh, the mysteries of the publishing industry.
Ultimately, The Leaving is a suspenseful and captivating mystery that will leave you guessing the entire time. Although I didn’t like the way the characters were written, I do think it’s worth giving this one a go if you’re a fan of mysteries and don’t mind a more plot-driven novel. It’s definitely one that you’ll be staying up all night to finish!
Have you had the chance to pick up this book yet? Do you prefer character- or plot-driven novels? Are you a fan of mysteries? What’s your most prominent memory of childhood? Let me know and we can exchange the stories of our past we’d rather forget!
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia for providing me with this book in exchange for an honest review!
Title: The Leaving
Publication date: June 1st, 2016
Australian RRP: $17.99