Rules For Vanishing is old-school paranormal horror: suspense, gore, and sinister threats from unexpected directions. Kate Alice Marshall orchestrates a strong ensemble and perfectly plotted twists.

Book Cover: Rules For Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall


Once a year, the path appears in the forest and Lucy Gallows beckons. Who is brave enough to find her–and who won’t make it out of the woods?

It’s been exactly one year since Sara’s sister, Becca, disappeared, and high school life has far from settled back to normal. With her sister gone, Sara doesn’t know whether her former friends no longer like her…or are scared of her, and the days of eating alone at lunch have started to blend together. When a mysterious text message invites Sara and her estranged friends to “play the game” and find local ghost legend Lucy Gallows, Sara is sure this is the only way to find Becca–before she’s lost forever. And even though she’s hardly spoken with them for a year, Sara finds herself deep in the darkness of the forest, her friends–and their cameras–following her down the path. Together, they will have to draw on all of their strengths to survive. The road is rarely forgiving, and no one will be the same on the other side. 

You asked for horror?

I don’t read (or watch) much horror, so I don’t have a great frame of reference. I know that Destiny at Howling Libraries is reading this one now, and she reviews lots of horror. I’ll point you to her review when it’s up for a more well-versed take. 

She’d be perfect!

As someone who consumes very little of the genre, the basic shape of this book looked like my idea of an old-school horror movie: a large ensemble of teenagers (with secrets and ambitions) trapped in a dark, dangerous space full of unknown threats. I could easily imagine this as a Halloween-season movie, maybe with Kaitlyn Dever as Sara.

I love a good ensemble…

Perhaps because I’m not into gore, I liked the first third of Rules For Vanishing the best. The early chapters had Marshall’s strengths on full display. The initial crew is huge—ten at the start—and balancing all those introductions right away can be overwhelming. I was able to keep up, though, and the payoff was huge. Marshall has a real gift for group scenes. (Which is strange, considering her debut, I Am Still Alive, is a solo survival story.)

I particularly loved a chapter near the beginning told in transcripts of a group text message. I’ve read a lot of YA recently that integrate text conversations well (Mary H. K. Choi obviously kills at text chapters) but this took that form to another level. Marshall orchestrates a six-person main chat, plus several private message spin-off threads, with perfect timing. In fact, Marshall makes great use of her characters’ cell phones throughout. It might be tempting to eliminate those easy plot-solvers with conveniently dead batteries. Instead of avoiding them, Marshall takes full advantage of what these teens can do with their technology. 

Fauxumentary style

Text transcripts aren’t the only unconventional forms that Marshall plays with in Rules For Vanishing. The conceit of the book is that it’s a set of documents from a file (think Illuminae) from a third party investigating the story after the fact. The book alternates between interview transcripts, video descriptions, and prose chapters.

Book Cover: The Kingdom

The format reminded me of the gritty true-crime conceit of Sadie  by Courtney Summers and the sci-fi-true-crime twist in The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg. In both cases, the reader alternates between the first-person narration of the girl at the center of the story and the formal fact-finding of men trying to piece together the girl’s story after the fact.

In Sadie and The Kingdom, though, the prose sections are played completely straight. They’re no different from any other first-person novel in those moments. But as Rules For Vanishing progresses, though, we realize that Sara’s narration is just another document. The first-person prose is her written testimony after the fact. It’s another primary source, just as real and immediate and suspect as the rest. The result is a spectacularly complex and unreliable narrator that completely absorbed me in the mystery. 

And that mystery

The mystery, by the way, was spectacular. I like to annotate/markup physical ARCs, and I’m glad I did for this one. Rules For Vanishing rewards careful reading. I was so glad I marked important scenes and jotted down character notes, because being able to flip back and reference earlier moments after big reveals was mind-blowing and satisfying. The twists were densely-packed and always felt earned, whether they were the “figured that was probably the case two chapters ago” kind or the “WHAT” kind. 

I’m not giving this one the full five stars because my enjoyment really diminished in the middle. As soon as I could see the underlying structure (there are seven phases of the experience), I really just wanted to skip to the last phase. I think most readers will love the slow roll-out, but I just didn’t have the patience for quite that much wandering around in the dark.

I had to keep reading through, though, to find out, as the book keeps asking us… what happened in the dark?

Content warnings for Rules for Vanishing include:on-page character death, discussion of past suicide attempt, blood/injury/gore, references to off-page physical abuse of a minor, possession horror, PTSD

Thank you to Viking Books and Penguin Random House for providing me with an advance copy of this book at BookCon in expectation of an honest review. No money changed hands for this review and all opinions are my own.

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