Nick and Dara have always been extremely close sisters. Born just eleven months apart, they've shared everything, including the pain of their parents' divorce. But during Nick's senior year, things change when Dara becomes involved with Nick's best friend, Parker. Suddenly Nick finds herself on the outside and she doesn't like what she sees. Dara's always been a loose cannon, and Nick's always had her back, but the relationship between Dara and Parker threatens them in ways Nick never thought possible. Things come to a head at a party, and Nick and Dara leave together. They never make it home, and Dara's physically and emotionally damaged in ways Nick cannot reach nor heal.
I love the way this novel unfolded, including the parallel story of the missing nine year old girl, Madeline. Told mostly from Nick's point of view, we feel her pain at the loss of her sister's love and friendship and her inability to fix their relationship. Meanwhile, Dara stays hidden, only sharing her viewpoint sporadically as she tries to cope with all the losses in her life. She blames Nick for her painful recovery and her breakup with Parker. It's a sad, twisted existence, and both girls suffer.
There's a lot of detail in this novel, and a lot of emotion packed into its pages. There's also a lot of drinking and references to drug use, but they play their own role in the story. My heart broke, and broke again, for Nick as she tries at first to avoid her sister and then to come to terms about the accident, and my heart broke for Dara, the wilder younger sister who lost so much. Events are revealed slowly, with Madeline's disappearance woven neatly throughout. I finished the book feeling as though I'd been pulled through a wringer emotionally, wanting to reread it again to see what all I'd missed along the way that would shed light on the relationship between the sisters.
Lauren Oliver has become a favorite author of mine, and with Vanishing Girls she has cemented her place on my Must Buy list. There's so much more to be said for and about this novel, but without being able to do so without giving spoilers, I will just say that you will be swept up into the lives of two damaged girls who need to find a way to make themselves whole again. Read it now. You won't regret it.