Sunday, November 1, 2020

Review: How to Disappear Completely by Ali Standish

by Ali Standish
Release Date: April 28th 2020
2020 HarperCollins
Hardcover Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062893284
Genre: Fiction / Juvenile / Contemporary
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

While her grandmother was alive, Emma’s world was filled with enchantment. But now Gram is gone, and suddenly strange spots are appearing on Emma’s skin. Soon, she’s diagnosed with vitiligo—a condition that makes patches of her skin lose their color—and the magic in her world is suddenly replaced with school bullies and doctor appointments.

But when Emma writes one last story in the journal she shared with Gram, something strange happens. Someone writes back to her, just like Gram used to. Who’s writing to Emma? And just what is her story going to be, now that everything is so different?
My Thoughts
How to Disappear Completely is one of those books that I appreciate as I didn't really know what to expect going into it, but enjoyed it so much just because I didn't know much about it.  Emma is a 7th grader who recently lost her grandmother and is grieving her loss.  She spends her time escaping to their special spots, one spot where they shared special stories with each other, and Emma decides to write one last story.  To her surprise, she gets a response.  And the story takes off from there.  I was pleasantly surprised by the character developments, the special bonds that grew between these characters, and the story itself.  
Emma was a great character.  And I just didn't identify with her because we share the same passion for books.  I think I enjoy these books as it brings back that magical time of being twelve years old again and at my age, it is really easy to forget.  And when you throw in a medical condition that affects your skin, this can be quite traumatizing for a pre-adolescent girl.  Emma discovers these white spots on her skin at her grandmother's funeral and doesn't know what they are.  However, they soon spread and can't be overlooked.  She is soon diagnosed with vtiligo and has to now navigate a world where people stare at her as the spots can not longer be covered up.  I thought the author treated the issue with compassion and thoughtfulness for Emma's feelings and concerns as well as highlighted the peer issues she would face. Vitiligo is non-contagious but the author was able to highlight how people can be afraid of things they do not know, which can cause problems for people and set up situations for bullies to come forward.  This story did not steer away from these issues, for which I am glad, as that would be fake in this world we live in.  However, the author did manage to evoke feelings of empathy in me even towards the bullies as they behaved the way they did through misunderstanding and not always because they were mean.  There were definitely a lot of thought-provoking issues in this book. 
The secondary characters were just as interesting as Emma and I was particularly interested in the relationship between Emma and her older sister whom she thought was so perfect.  Her sister was in high school and was dealing with applications for universities and it was sweet how they learned about each other through Emma's diagnosis and bonded.  It's a good lesson that not everything is as it seems and nobody is perfect.  And misunderstandings often happens because of assumptions.   

How to Disappear Completely is a beautifully written story. of friendship, misunderstandings, grief, self-esteem, and family.  And while I appreciated the descriptions of Emma's learning to accept herself as someone with vitiligo and to use that as a source of strength, I wasn't as crazy about the 'fantasy' elements in this book.  I get that they are being used more as metaphors for her life, and the book is written for juvenile readers, but that wasn't my problem with these elements, they just felt like they didn't quite mesh with the rest of the story, that's all.  Otherwise, I loved this book and enjoyed Emma's journey of acceptance.  Highly recommended. 


  1. sounds like a great book and i'm glad you enjoyed it so much. wonderful review. would make a great christmas gift for those with young girls
    sherry @ fundinmental

    1. Yes, I already bought a copy for a friend's daughter who is 12. Thought the same thing.