Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Book Review: The Vanishing of Katharina Linden

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden
By Helen Grant
Published by Random House Audio
Read by Justine Eyre
Published August 2010 (US), 2009 (UK)
7 CDs (384 pages)
Buy it at Indiebound, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.
Source: Library

I love this book. LOVE. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute I spent with 10-year-old Pia and her sidekick, Stink-Stefan, while they investigated the disappearances of four young girls in the tiny German town of Bad Münstereifel. Equal parts suspenseful crime novel and beautifully written literature, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden by Helen Grant is a book that should be savored and enjoyed. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this book made me fall in love with literature again.

First Line: “My life might have been different had I not been known as the girl whose grandmother exploded.” 

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden is suspenseful, riveting, morbid, and lovely. At times, it reminded me of a mash-up of Coraline (for mood, not plot), Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events (crafty kids, clueless and smarmy adults), and a Stephen King novel (more suspense than gore). But for those (like me) who don’t care for scary stories, know that the suspense is different than I encountered in the single King novel I forced myself to read (I hate scary stories, The Sixth Sense was almost too much for me. Yes, really.). This is a more real and honest suspense. Which, I think, makes it a bit more unnerving…

Young girls are disappearing, seemingly without a trace, all over Bad Münstereifel and the police have no leads. But Pia and Stefan, thrown together by their mutual status as 5th grade class pariahs, are determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. Initially, they are inspired by the tall tales and urban legends told to them by their elderly friend, Heir Schiller, to investigate the local magic and supernatural as possible causes, but Pia and Stefan are soon thrust into a very real world of crime and confusion. The story moves at a quick pace, with several sub-plots along the way that are as interesting and complex as the main whodunit plot.

 Helen Grant loves language, that much is evident just a few pages into the book. Her vocabulary is vast and fancy (as my high school students would say) and I appreciate any author who drives me to the Merriam-Webster app on my iPhone while I'm reading. And her language mastery extends to the German words, phrases, and customs (don’t worry, there is a glossary at the back of the book) that are liberally sprinkled throughout the book and lend an element of authenticity to the story and especially to the setting. (Bad Münstereifel is a real place, and these pictures make me want to visit!)

And speaking of language, Grant loves figurative language of all types – allusions, similes, metaphors, analogies, and beautiful, descriptive language that creates a movie in the reader’s head. If you like a straightforward, informational style of writing, this book is not for you. I, however, love language and reveled in the breath-taking (and I mean that literally, I caught myself gasping and re-reading/rewinding lines to listen to them again and again) way with words Grant has. Within just four pages she includes gems like these:

“Soon there would be nothing left of me at all, nothing real: I would be a walking piece of gossip, alternatively tragic and appalling and, worse of all, a poor thing.”

“The ugly truth was coming out: like a hare breaking cover it streaked across the landscape of my mind.”

“I was not sure how to put words into the feeling I suddenly had that the family was splitting into two halves, like medieval armies arranging themselves at either end of a battlefield.”

 Final Word: A lovely and well-crafted read that I’m recommending to everyone I know. I desperately want to teach this book and there can be no higher praise from an English teacher.

Summary via Goodreads:

It isn’t ten-year-old Pia’s fault that her grandmother dies in a freak accident. But tell that to the citizens of Pia’s little German hometown of Bad Münstereifel, or to the classmates who shun her. The only one who still wants to be her friend is StinkStefan, the most unpopular child in school.

But then something else captures the community’s attention: the vanishing of Katharina Linden. Katharina was last seen on a float in a parade, dressed as Snow White. Then, like a character in a Grimm’s fairy tale, she disappears. But, this being real life, she doesn’t return.

Pia and Stefan suspect that Katharina has been spirited away by the supernatural. Their investigation is inspired by the instructive—and cautionary—local legends told to them by their elderly friend Herr Schiller, tales such as that of Unshockable Hans, visited by witches in the form of cats, or of the knight whose son is doomed to hunt forever.

Then another girl disappears, and Pia is plunged into a new and unnerving place, one far away from fairy tales—and perilously close to adulthood.


  1. There always seems to be something special when stories are set in Germany. Thanks for the review.

    1. Heather, if you have other recommendations for stories set there (besides The Sound of Music ;) ) I'd love them! I enjoyed the setting so much in this book. Helen Grant reminded me of Willa Cather in how she made the setting and "the land" part of the plot as much as the characters were.

  2. I am in love with the way this novel sounds!

    1. Chelsea, you must read it then!!! ;) It really was such a lovely novel. Full of mystery, fantastically written characters, and SO MUCH fan-TASTIC and beautiful language!! <3


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