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Judging a book by its cover A book review series by Victoria Gardey and Libby Flower, both '20

Judging a book by its cover is a new book review series in which books are selected from NPR's Favorite Books of the Year list based solely on the cover. Follow along on our podcast as well available on The Tower Pulse soundcloud.

Disappearing Earth: An Irresistible Glimpse into a Russian Small Town Mystery

Libby Flower '20, Supervising Editor at Large

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips is a glimpse into the small seaside town of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky on Kamchatka, a Russian peninsula. It focuses on the disappearance of two little girls and how it impacts the lives of various women living in the town, whether or not they knew the girls personally.

This novel was such a beautiful read. I could tell the author put so much research and time into this tiny Russian town; her descriptions were breathtaking, making me feel like I had been there before. Just like the descriptions, Phillip’s writing was inspirational. She evoked a lot of emotions from me, and I could feel her characters’ lives as if they were coming through the pages.

Additionally, there was symbolism included with the girls’ disappearance because just like their disappearance, each woman the author focused on was missing something from their lives. None of them were happy, which pointed to how sometimes in our own lives we have personal disappearances, that maybe aren’t as major as two sisters going missing, but still can have an impact.

Each chapter was a month of the year that introduced a new woman living in the town and the struggles she was facing, even if she herself wasn’t aware she was struggling. The climax at the end was from the perspective of the missing sisters’ mother. I had hoped that by the end each woman’s story would come together and be unified, however I was a little disappointed that it didn’t exactly turn out that way.

Some women came back, but not all, which made me question why some character arcs were even included. Because the book was written this way, it made it hard to connect with the characters. Since new characters kept being introduced and perspectives kept switching, it was hard to relate with any one character, which is something I personally missed.

Because it is still part mystery, and the fate of the missing sisters is a question that kept me devouring page after page. But overall the book was thoroughly researched and incredibly well-written, with a twist at the ending that will leave you wanting more.

It’s also a fairly short book, less than 300 pages, so if you are looking for a quick and invigorating read I would pick up this novel. The insight into this beautiful Russian town alone is enough to keep anyone intrigued. Personally, it was quite nice to explore a setting that wasn’t in America, and I admire the dedication the author had to depict the setting as accurately as possible.

I give this book ⅘ stars. Published in 2019, it is currently available in bookstores as a hardcover novel or online as an ebook.

Disappearing Earth: Looking past the hype

Victoria Gardey '20, Online Editor in Chief

When I opened the first page of Julia Phillip’s Disappearing Earth, I groaned. The first few pages were a lengthy list of characters and I could barely pronounce any of them. Great.

I had only picked this book out based on its cover so I was dreading the thought that this book might be another War and Peace. Thankfully, it was not. I made it through and I am glad I did.

The book is separated into 12 months, each month being a chapter. Although the book is mainly centered around the kidnapping of two young girls on the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia, almost every chapter introduces a new set of characters and you leave the main plot to follow a loosely connected side plot.

While I was reading, I was excited to see how the side plots would all connect together at the end. Sadly, however, they never totally did. Maybe that’s part of the point, but if it was I missed it.

The book overall was a very interesting read. Phillips obviously did her research and I felt that I walked away from the book with a much better understanding of Russian culture. It was intriguing because when I first started reading the book I felt almost like I was reading a historical fiction book, however, when the girls pulled out a cell phone I realized that was obviously not the case.

What I enjoyed most about the book was towards the end, when the pace really picked up and some of the different characters became intertwined. My issue, however, was how long it took to get there. The middle became quite slow and with no real attachment to any of the characters and a slow plot I lost a little interest. I will say, however, that I finished this book in my physics class (sorry Mr. Hecker!) and I could not put it down...even after being asked to a couple of times.

What struck me the most about the book was Phillip’s writing. It was beautiful. She found a perfect balance between dialogue and narration, that didn’t feel forced and kept me interested. After all, there’s a reason this book won a National Book Award.

Overall, I would say don’t wait five months on the library waitlist. Without a clear message and a lacking plot and characters, this book wasn’t exactly for me. However, if you enjoy reading a book with a unique setting and some beautiful up-and-coming writing go ahead and get this on e-book...I just wouldn’t pay for the hardback.