DISAPPEARED features a dark mystery and an immigration story rolled into one!
Conspiracies, criminal enterprises, and immigrant stories collide in Francisco X. Stork’s Disappeared, which follows a brother and sister from Juarez, Mexico as they discover their city’s criminal underbelly.
Sara Zapata’s best friend, Linda Fuentes, went missing four months ago. She’s one of the “only” 64 girls who went missing from the city that year, and the police aren’t willing to dig for answers. So, from her post as a reporter at El Sol, Sara relentlessly shares stories of the missing girls known as Desaparecidas, searching for connections along the way. She’s received death threats before, but the latest is more specific and threatens her family too. Just as Sara begins to question if she’s doing more harm than good, she also discovers the first true clue to Linda’s whereabouts. Can she save her best friend and many other Desaparecidas while keeping her loved ones safe?
Meanwhile, after a rough phase following his father leaving the family to immigrate to America, Emiliano Zapata is finding his place. He’s a star soccer player at his high school, part of an avid hiking club, and enterprising a local folk art business that sells to tourists at the border. But it’s not enough. Emiliano has also fallen in love with Perla Rubi Esmeralda, the daughter of a wealthy lawyer, and he’s definitely not on par with her family’s level of power and prestige. However, the wealthy upper echelon of Juarez has noticed Emiliano and taken a liking to him. It’s not long before he’s offered a relatively safe, profitable job– It’s less than legal, but taking the position would mean security for his mother and sister, as well as a real shot with Perla Rubi.
Soon, the siblings’ investigation and intentions spell out true danger for the family. They can save Linda, but it will mean escaping Juarez and joining their father in America by any means necessary, risking their lives along the way.
There are a lot of moving parts to this story, but it’s pretty easy to digest thanks to Stork’s very straightforward, no-frills writing style. The novel is written in the third person present tense, which made everything feel very on-the-nose. However, it was so straightforward that it lacks rich description and you don’t always have a chance to develop an emotional connection to the characters. Being told that Sara is desperate to find Linda and Emiliano aches to impress Perla Rubi is acceptable, but it’s espoused upon so little that I didn’t feel those emotions with them. The sense of urgency on their journey just wasn’t there, which you absolutely should feel when your protagonists are being hunted down by the dangerous and corrupt.
Plot-wise, I spent a lot of time waiting for Sara and Emiliano’s narratives to intersect. Sara was investigating criminals while Emiliano was getting caught up with them, so it feels like they’d naturally weave together to unlock a giant conspiracy. In reality, there’s very little connection between the two stories. Up until the third act, their journeys could have happened without the other sibling even existing. I question the necessity of Emiliano’s story on the whole, other than one plot device that helps ensure Sara’s survival, because we essentially drop out of his story completely in favor of Sara’s as the end of the book nears. Also, beware: Loose ends are very much a part of this story’s design.
Disappeared features some action, but it’s largely happening elsewhere and the characters hear about it secondhand. I find myself wondering if Linda Fuentes herself would have been a better narrator, as someone who experienced the kidnapping and struggle for survival firsthand, but I don’t think the author was willing to go there and really expose the awful things that happen to Desaparecidas– Linda’s terrors are vaguely hinted at but never specified. Despite the gritty scenario, Sara and Emiliano come off as a much more passive part of the story, so squeaky clean that it reads as if it’s written for the younger side of the YA audience. Things happen because of them, but rarely happen to them. It feels odd given that Emiliano is sixteen and Sara is college-aged.
It’s not all bad, however. Emiliano has a moral quandary that’s relatable to anyone from the lower or working class: The realization that hard work doesn’t always pay off for everyone and the urge to do something– anything— that will guarantee stability and acceptance. He’s much more complex than Sara because while you don’t always agree with him, you get a better understanding of how many young people wind up on the same path. Additionally, Sara and Emiliano’s final act is a compelling immigration story. The siblings don’t hate Mexico and they don’t want to leave, but there are some serious dangers around them. Juarez doesn’t have the same protections for people who expose crime. Through their story, it becomes easier to see why so many Mexicans seek asylum in the United States– for some, it’s the only way to find any security.
This character-driven novel has solid roots, but for me, it failed to grow into the gripping tale of desperation-meets-determination that it could have been.
RATING: 2.25 OUT OF 5 STARS
Disappeared hits bookshelves on September 26, 2017. You can pre-order it now via Amazon.
Four Months Ago
Sara Zapata’s best friend disappeared, kidnapped by the web of criminals who terrorize Juarez.
Four Hours Ago
Sara received a death threat – and with it, a clue to the place where her friend is locked away.
Four Weeks Ago
Emiliano Zapata fell in love with Perla Rubi, who will never be his so long as he’s poor.
Four Minutes Ago
Emiliano got the chance to make more money than he ever dreamed – just by joining the web.
In the next four days, Sara and Emiliano will each face impossible choices, between life and justice, friends and family, truth and love. But when the web closes in on Sara, only one path remains for the siblings: the way across the desert to the United States.