Title: Before We Disappear
Author: Shaun David Hutchinson
Publisher: HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins
Publishing Date: 2021
Genre/Format of the Item: Book
A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection
Reading Level/Interest Level:
Grades 9-12 NoveList
Plot Summary: Jack Nevin and Wilhelm Gesler have similar backgrounds. They both are being raised by adults who are selfish and abusive at times and both adults are magicians hoping to make a name for themselves at the World Fair in Seattle, Washington in 1909. Jack’s parents died when he was very young and he was homeless for a brief period of time until the Enchantress found him and offered him a home in exchange for being her assistant. His “adopted” sister Lucia is less enamored with The Enchantress, but the trio have created a makeshift family. Wilhelm has a secret- he has the ability to disappear and reappear other places. Lazlo discovered Wilhelm’s secret and kidnapped him. He has kept him literally chained up at night so that Wilhelm can assist him with his sinister plots of trickery and thieving, while also performing magic together.
Jack and Wilhelm have a chance encounter and are immediately drawn to one another. After Jack finds out Wilhelm’s secret powers and about Lazlo’s abusive ways, he is determined to find a way to release Wilhelm from Lazlo’s control. With the help of Lucia, some good friends, and even the Enchantress, Jack devises a scheme that he is sure to show the world the truth about Lazlo. With a surprise twist at the end, Before We Disappear offers readers wonder, mystery, intrigue, and a story about the power of resilience and friendship.
Author Background: Shaun David Hutchinson was born in West Palm Beach, Florida. He attended Florida Atlantic University and studied medieval and renaissance literature. He left college to pursue a job working with computer database design. He also has an EMT certification and has worked as a firefighter. His currently lives in Seattle, Washington and is the author of 11 young adult novels, two young adult anthologies, along with one non-fiction book and multiple short stories (Hutchinson, n.d.).
Critical Evaluations: Before We Disappear is a great novel if you love historical fiction and fantasy related to magic. The characters are well-developed and easy for teenagers to relate to. The plot is fairly straightforward but captivating and I was invested in how the story ended. The theme of child abuse and kidnapping was difficult to read though. I think that this book could possibly trigger some readers if they had previous experience with experiences such as abuse, neglect, sexism, racism, or homophobia. The author attempts to give the abusive parental figures some context for their actions, but overall, it is clear that the author and the characters do not condone the negative, abusive behavior.
Creative Use for a Library Program: This book would be good to highlight historical fiction with diverse characters and themes. The library could have an evening event that highlights YA historical fiction. This book would be highlighted during the program and on display. The event could have a creative writing professor from the local college (UC Davis) discuss creative writing and historical fiction. The teens who attend will get a chance to create their own mini story. The author will collect the stories and then compile them into a Word/PDF file which will be shared with all of the participants.
Speedround/Book Trailer: Life for Wilhelm and Jack has never been easy. They both lost their families and were taken in by selfish, and sometimes cruel, parent figures. Their chance meeting at the World Fair in Seattle opens up a whole new world for them. Magic, friendship, and adventure keep you on the edge of your seat in Before We Disappear!
Author’s Note: Before We Disappear is a work of fiction. However, the 1909 Seattle world’s fair was an actual event that took place between June 1, 1909, and October 16, 1909. I wanted to be as true to the spirit of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition as possible without feeling bound to it. … As much as I tried to remain true to history in some places, there were others where I left a reality behind. There was nowhere in the United States in 1909 where Jack and Wil or Ruth and Jessamy would have been able to openly have a relationship with one another. The only people free of discrimination in 1909 were cisgender heterosexual white men, and none of my protagonists fit into that category. But I wanted to tell a story in 1909 that was full of queer joy, so I took a whole lot of liberties with regard to what marginalized people in 1909 would have been allowed to do, and I’m not sorry. We were there in 1909 whether people knew it or not, and while Jack and Wil’s story isn’t true, I’d like to think it could have been.”(Hutchinson, 2021, p. 495-496).
Potential Challenge Issues/Defense Preparations: Before We Disappear may be challenged for the a few reasons. The characters in the book experience child abuse, kidnapping, homophobia, racism, sexism, and physical violence. There is also a scene with underage consumption of alcohol. These sensitive topics/experiences are not described in depth and the topics of child abuse, kidnapping, homophobia, racism, sexism, and physical violence are not condoned by the main characters. This book is about overcoming obstacles in life and about discovering one’s place in the world and not just following the path of least resistance. It is a story about friendship and the bonds that hold people together. The ending is very positive and the issues are mostly resolved for the characters.
Reason for Inclusion: I included this book in my blog because it is a fantasy novel that revolves around magic, which is different from the other fantasy novels in my collection. Before We Disappear deals with many sensitive topics, and yet the characters are resilient and find strength in their friendships and relationships. The characters are complex and likeable, and I think that many teenagers will enjoy reading about the historic World Fair in Seattle.
Hutchinson, S. D. (2021). Before We Disappear. HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins
Hutchinson, S. D. (n.d.). About. Shaun David Hutchinson. https://shaundavidhutchinson.com/books/
Third Place Book Events. (2021, October 7). Shaun David Hutchinson and Kathleen Glascow–Before we dissappear & you’d be home now [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MN_0O8XWWHg