Thursday, December 16, 2010

Review: The Vanishing of Katharina Linden

Not being a reader of fantasy or fairy tales, I took a chance on this book, and was pleasantly surprised. This book is a rather dark coming-of-age story, replete with child abduction and parental hysteria. Young girls begin disappearing from a small German town, and eleven-year-old Pia Kolvenbach desperately hopes to solve the mystery. Pia is something of a misfit: her only friends are the similarly unpopular "StinkStefan," and her late grandmother's sometimes boyfriend. The elderly gentleman delights Pia and Stefan with regional folktales, which add to the ambiance for two youngsters in a town gripped with hysteria. As the town grows more fearful Pia faces her own problems, as her parents marriage is falling apart. These tales ultimately weave together into a dramatic conclusion. That conclusion will likely not surprise most readers, and as a whodunit, this book falls flat. As a more general work of fiction the book is stronger. Grant does a particularly good job of setting the scene, bringing the reader into the town of Bad Munstereifel. The holidays, the festivals, the landscape with all of its interesting corners for children to explore: all of these are vividly detailed. That said, I never did get a good sense of why Pia was so intent on solving the mystery. There's a small subplot about Pia's grandmother "exploding" (i.e. burning to death) at Christmastime. Theoretically this is what thrusts Pia into the depths of unpopularity. This was probably the weakest thread in the larger work. This is a book to read for the environment it creates.

Helen Grant, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden (Delacorte, 2010) ISBN: 0385344171

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