Thoughts on books, family, and life in one impressive package.

Title:  The Vanishing of Katharina Linden

Author:  Helen Grant

Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books): “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.”

Thoughts:  Set in Germany, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden has all the hallmarks of a fairy tale.  In fact, Pia and Stefan remind me of Hansel and Gretel, trying to solve an adult’s problem at the age of ten.  The German setting adds a certain charm to the entire novel.  Ms. Grant does a tremendous job of describing life in Germany in the 1990s.  In fact, I felt like I had stepped back in time and was living in my little German apartment again.  The use of German words is quite liberal and also sets the tone, but for those not familiar with any German, Ms. Grant provides a complete list of the words used and their definition.  The overall effect is a novel that could rival any Grimm Brothers’ story in its setting and yet dark undercurrent.

The best term to describe this novel is as a fairy tale.  Everything about it screams morality tale.  Yet, this is not a traditional one.  The bad person in this novel is far too human and far too dark, making him or her scarier than any evil witch or stepmother the Grimm Brothers created.  The mysterious evil is too realistic and raw to have any element of fantasy attached to it.  It is a compelling combination.

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden is one of those novels that I thoroughly enjoyed while I was reading it yet could easily pick apart once I finished.  The story itself is fairly predictable yet still provides enough shock and awe to make it enjoyable.  Pia is likeable but extremely naive.  She is a lot more innocent and yet daring than most ten-year-olds I know, including my son.  Combine that with an extreme lack of street smarts, and it makes for an interesting heroine who survives on luck, her friendship with the more street-savvy Stefan, and a bit on that naitivity.  While I liked the novel, I am left wanting to like it more than I did.  There were too many crises in Pia’s life with too many competing story lines that the main mystery seemed overshadowed at times.  Even worse, there are many unanswered questions.  There were several comments made by minor characters and statements hinting at future revelations that never occur. The end result is a hodge-podge of stories that the reader must delve through to get to the overarching point of the story.  It works, but the end result is not as satisfactory as it might be.

I wish I could say I loved The Vanishing of Katharina Linden.  On the surface, there is so much to love.  Yet, once a reader delves deeper into the story, the little flaws start to add up and detract from the main story.  At times the novel does read like a YA or middle grade novel, and I can definitely see someone younger really enjoying the novel, as he or she may be more likely to overlook those flaws or not even notice them.  In the end, I’ll remember The Vanishing of Katharina Linden more for allowing me to remember what it was like to live in a small village in Germany and for its fairy tale-esque qualities.  A trip down memory lane is never a bad thing!

Thank you to Delacorte Press and LibraryThing’s Early Reader program for an advanced copy of this novel!

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