This young adult novel has a very unique plot involving a family in the Witness Protection Program and a young girl trying to get her life back.
Seventeen year old senior "Sissy" and her eleven year old sister "Teeny" along with their parents have been in the Witness Protection Program for the past eight months. In that time they have had to move six times after their new identities were compromised.
This time her family is moved to Natchitoches, Louisiana where they are placed in a small cottage. They are now known as Megan (Meg) Rose Jones and Mary Jones. Meg's father is given a manufacturing job and her mother is made to stay at home as she is a completely non-functioning alcoholic at this point.
Meg is determined that this will be her last move. She's lost her identity, her home, her friends, and a boy she liked. Her parents marriage is failing, while her younger sister is becoming increasingly withdrawn and unresponsive.
Seeing her family in chaos and completely dysfunctional, Meg draws up a list of rules for disappearing:
1. I will not join any clubs.
2. I will not try out for cheerleading or any other sport/team.
3. I will not make any friends.
4. I will discover the truth no matter what.
For Meg, number 4 is the most important. She is determined to learn why her family was placed in the program and why they are being moved so much. She does not want to move again.
Meg attends Natchitoches High School where, almost immediately, she attracts the attention of handsome Ethan Landry who works on his family's farm. Meg manages to get a job working at a nearby pizza place owned by Ethan's Aunt Pearl. This job gives Meg an escape from the almost insurmountable problems at home and helps her cope with the stress. She is suffering from terrible nightmares as well as a loss of memory of the events leading up to their placement into the Witness Protection Program.
Although Meg tries her best to scare off Ethan, he continues to pursue her, convincing her to let him drive her to and from school. He frequents his Aunt's pizza place where he forms a rapport with Meg's younger sister Mary, teaching her how to make pizza. This gradually begins to heal Mary and brings her out of her shell.
Although Meg tries to suppress her feelings for Ethan and to push him away emotionally, she finds him irresistible and they soon become a couple. Ethan has suspected early on that Meg is not from Arkansas and he confronts her over her identity. But Meg refuses to answer Ethan's questions, even when he confronts her later on with evidence that she is someone else. Her motive is to try to protect Ethan.
Meg attempts to find out from both her parents about what caused their placement in protection, but she is refused at every attempt. Meanwhile one of the FBI agents or "suits" approaches Meg expressing concern for her family. When Meg asks Agent Thomas to tell her what happened he tells her that if she just thinks about it she will "figure it out". This leads Meg to try to focus on what she remembers from the night of the party, even though it's obvious what she experienced was very traumatic.
When Meg's mother inadvertently reveals a clue, this leads Meg to regain most of her memory over what happened that night. She confronts her father who fills in some of the details. Meg decides she needs to take action in an attempt to free her family from the witness protection program. With Ethan by her side and some help from a few friends, Meg travels across the country to retrieve something she hopes will free herself and her family.
The Rules for Disappearing is an interesting novel with a unique storyline. It is part mystery, part suspense and part romance. Elston immediately grabs her readers interest with Meg and her family being assigned new identities and shuttled into a new life in Louisiana. The mystery of what caused her family to be placed in protection is gradually revealed through several twists in the plot. Eventually readers learn about Meg's past and the events that led to her family's current predicament. But Elston leaves a few loose ends that will lead to a second installment in this new series.
Meg is a strong heroine who fights for her freedom and to regain her life. This is in contrast to her parents who seem unable to cope with what has happened. Her boyfriend Ethan is probably the most attractive character in this novel as he's witty, understanding and courageous. His tenacity matches that of Meg, whom he finds himself very attracted to. Elston highlights the renowned southern hospitality as evidenced by the actions of Ethan Landry and his family.
Those readers looking for something a little different will enjoy this well paced novel.
The Rules for Disappearing by Ashley Elston
New York: Hyperion 2013