Every once in a while, you come across a novel that strikes a chord because there is a strong possibility that the story could end up being true. Even if you know it’s a long shot, there are scenarios featured within the story that you could imagine might actually occur in real life. Dead To You, a young adult novel by Lisa McMann, is full of these possibilities.
When he is only seven-years-old, Ethan is abducted from outside his home, with his four-year-old brother Blake as the only witness. His disappearance sparks a search that lasts for weeks, with his family (and his hometown of Belleville) never giving up hope that he might be found alive and well. Nine years later, Ethan, who has been living on the streets for a year, finally finds his way home. Of course, his parents are ecstatic about his return, and the good news quickly spreads. Soon there are television crews and journalists clamouring to hear his story, and Ethan has to try and deal with this, as well as readapting to family life with a family he barely remembers. But a lot has changed in nine years. He has a new ‘replacement’ sister named Gracie, who is only slightly younger than he was when he disappeared, and Blake (who is now thirteen) has a chip on his shoulder because of all the attention focussed on his older, prodigal-son brother. Then there’s Cami, the girl who lives down the street who used to be his best friend, and who he now has a major crush on- his only ‘real’ friend in this new world.
Despite the positive changes to his life, Ethan still experiences a crippling sense of hysteria, and struggles to find himself, unable to remember anything from his previous life and the people who lived in it. Tensions start to gather and Blake makes some serious accusations that threaten to tear the already-tentative family unit apart. Ethan knows that if he were able to remember something about his life before the abduction, everything would be fine, and they could start afresh, but he is unable to do so. He has been physically reunited with his family, but there’s something that is keeping him emotionally and psychologically apart from them, and he doesn’t know what that is…
Ethan’s story is compelling, and it is one that you can imagine happening in real life, despite the extraordinary events. We hear real-life abduction stories like this quite often, and it’s obvious the author has drawn from the experiences that the victims have had, and replicated them through her portrayal of Ethan. The author is able to represent Ethan’s emotions in a realistic way- they are exactly what you’d expect from a teenage boy going through such a tumultuous experience- but she doesn’t cheapen the effect by making him into some tough guy who is afraid to cry. She delves into his character and really captures the way somebody would feel when their entire life is turned upside down and thrown into public scrutiny.
If you like reading novels that contain a semblance of real-life, then it may be worth checking this book out. The twist at the end is a nicely added touch, and makes you wonder where the story could possibly go from there. Lisa McMann is a New York Times bestselling author, and I will definitely be taking a look at her other work after reading this engrossing novel.