Wonder meets Some Kind of Happiness in this powerful tween novel from Ali Standish, author of the Carnegie Medal nominee The Ethan I Was Before and August Isle.
While her grandmother was alive, Emma’s world was filled with enchantment. But now Gram is gone, and suddenly strange spots are appearing on Emma’s skin. Soon, she’s diagnosed with vitiligo—a condition that makes patches of her skin lose their color—and the magic in her world is suddenly replaced with school bullies and doctor appointments.
But when Emma writes one last story in the journal she shared with Gram, something strange happens. Someone writes back to her, just like Gram used to. Who’s writing to Emma? And just what is her story going to be, now that everything is so different?
Award-winning author Ali Standish explores the ways life transforms us, and how we learn to let go of what we must while still holding fast to who we are.---from the publisher
Keywords: grandmother, death and dying, loss, illness, vitiligo, bullies, school issues, new experiences, diversity, diverse books, friends, friendship, Latina, Latinx, finding yourself, letters, letting go, identity, 9 year old, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, autoimmune condition
“And I’m so sad
Like a good book
I can’t put this day back
A sorta fairytale with you”
-- Tori Amos (2002)
“Vitiligo is a long-term skin condition characterized by patches of the skin losing their pigment. The patches of skin affected become white and usually have sharp margins. The hair from the skin may also become white. The inside of the mouth and nose may also be involved.”
-- from Wikipedia, “Vitiligo”
“In fairy tales, things are always changing into something else. Pumpkins turn into carriages, frogs into princes, mermaids into girls. Nothing is ever what it seems. Nothing ever stays the same. And I guess that’s the way it is in real life, too.
Gram didn’t tell us she was sick until a couple of months ago. Not until she knew she was going to die. I still didn’t believe it, though. Not until the sickness changed her, turning her into a weak old woman.
Then one day, she fell into an enchanted sleep.
That’s the part fairy tales get wrong, see. In Gram’s stories, things usually come out right in the end. Sleeping Beauty wakes up. Little Red Riding Hood gets to go home.
Gram did not wake up. Gram is never coming home.
And with her gone, I don’t know how the story is supposed to go.”
Emma Talbot’s grandmother was also her best friend. Gram was a storyteller who introduced Emma to classic fairy tales. Furthermore, the pair shared secrets that Emma’s mother and sometimes-overbearing, big sister, Lily never knew.
So the timing could not be worse: Emma is sitting in the front pew at her grandmother’s funeral when she notices a small white spot on her foot. After finding more spots, she does an Internet search and reads about vitiligo. Then, in denial, she gets into the bathtub and desperately tries to scrub off the spots until she’s made herself bleed.
Talk about timing: This all takes place just days before Emma begins seventh grade at a new school. Emma and her family had moved in to Emma’s grandmother’s house at the beginning of the summer to take care of her dying grandmother, and they are now living there permanently.
Emma doesn’t know that touches of magic, and being befriended by Fina, another new seventh grader in town, will dramatically turn things around for her.
Readers of HOW TO DISAPPEAR COMPLETELY will become knowledgeable about vitiligo. But this beautifully-written piece of fiction for 10- to 14 year-olds is far from being an issue story about the autoimmune skin condition.
While there is talk of the creatures one encounters in fairy tales, the magic here has to do with
the friendship between Emma and Fina, and with Emma’s fortuitous encounters with generations of loving adults in the village she now calls home.
Losing her beloved grandmother and suddenly facing a future of vitiligo will not be a picnic for Emma. But she’ll find she’s mistaken about this enchanting story not having a happy ending.
Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA