REVIEW: The Other Side of Disappearing by Kate Clayborn

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Orange cover with a line drawing in black and white of a white woman's profile and a lot of wavy hair. She has her eyes closed, a sprinkling of freckles on her cheekbone and pink wired earbuds in her ears. To the right of the drawing is some small hand drawn black and white stars.Hairstylist Jess Greene has spent the last decade raising her younger half-sister, Tegan—and keeping a shocking secret. Ever since their reckless mother ran off with a boyfriend she’d known only a few months, Jess has been aware that he’s the same accomplished con man who was the subject of a wildly popular podcast, The Last Con of Lynton Baltimore.

Now thirty-one, Jess didn’t bargain on Tegan eventually piecing together the connection for herself. But Tegan plans to do exactly what Jess has always feared—leave their safe, stable home to search for their mother—and she’ll be accompanied by the prying podcast host and her watchful, handsome producer, Adam Hawkins. Unwilling to let the sister she’s spent so much of her life protecting go it alone, Jess reluctantly joins them.

Together, the four make their way across the country, unraveling the mystery of where the couple disappeared to and why. But soon Jess is discovering other things too. Like a renewed sense of vulnerability and curiosity, and a willingness to expand beyond the walls she’s so carefully built. And in Adam, she finds an unexpected connection she didn’t even know was missing, if only she can let go and let him in . . .

Content Note: mention of a past death by suicide, mental illness

Dear Kate Clayborn,

Anyone who has ever read one of your books knows your writing is beautiful. It is also unique. Your writing voice is one I can pick out in a crowd, a combination of gorgeous turns of phrase and  thoughtful motifs and word pictures. The Other Side of Disappearing is no different.

On it’s face, the “disappearing” in the title refers to Jess’s mother and her boyfriend, con man Lynton Baltimore. But there are layers of disappearing and disappeared in the book and by the end, the title has new significance. When Tegan was left in her care, Jess disappeared. She was focused solely on looking after Tegan and protecting her privacy. She has no social media, few friends and keeps everyone at a distance. This, to a certain extent, includes Tegan herself, particularly given the things she she has not shared about their mother. Jess’s is the biggest but there are other “disappearances” and reappearances, things and people being seen and unseen in the story, some small and subtle, some more obvious. These are all woven wonderfully together in a beautiful tapestry.

Adam is struck down by almost instant love when he first meets Jess. He immediately wants to protect her and make sure she is not taken advantage of by his boss, Salem Durant (the host of the first big podcast, The Last Con of Lynton Baltimore). Salem had been due to meet Lynton in person for the last episode of the iconic podcast, ten years before. But he didn’t show. (Instead he was busy running off with Jess and Tegan’s mother.) Some say Baltimore’s last con was to Salem herself. It still stings and she wants the follow up. There’s something there about relevance and reclaiming glory too as well as other things which are revealed later in the story.

Adam wants this story too. His best friend, Copeland “Cope” Frederick, a famous NFL player, died by suicide following a mental health crisis. Adam longs to tell Cope’s story in a podcast of his own but he is new to journalism and needs to earn his stripes before he can get the chance. Nonetheless, Adam finds himself immediately torn between his own goals and his desire to protect Jess. Jess may have disappeared but Adam sees her, immediately and clearly and he never loses sight of her. Not once.

Jess decides to go with Salem, Adam and Tegan on the search for the missing couple but does not intend to talk or share her story with the podcast. She is the epitome of reluctant to be involved. When Salem offers Adam the chance at his podcast if he gets Jess to talk on the record I thought I knew where the story was going. But you are too clever and, no. There were a number of times where the book could have gone a certain way but Adam and Jess are better than that and what separates them near the end is far more complicated. It all comes down to who sees you, how you see yourself.

Another recurring motif in the book is this:

“A shell souvenir,” she says quietly.

“What?”

She shrugs. “I don’t know. It’s like—collecting a bunch of little shells from the beach. Individually, they’re nice, sure. But if you want to remember your trip, you do something with them, the way these shops do. Put them in a jar, or glue them to a frame. Coat them in something that’s probably toxic and make a keychain. Stock them on your shelves for selling. A souvenir.”

which occurs when the team are in Florida during their search. There are a number of callbacks to this word picture as the story progresses and each one builds until in the end, it is its very own shell souvenir.

Jess is by no means immune to Adam’s charms. He is handsome and big and tall, protective, kind, open and vulnerable.

I push myself more upright so I can see him better. He’s wearing athletic shorts and a soaked-through T-shirt. He’s sweating. Breathing harder than normal. His hair is damp and sticking up in all directions, windblown. He’s the in-real-life version of every movie star who does some cheesy magazine cover story about how they bulked up to play a superhero, except in real life, it’s not cheesy at all.

This is terrible news.

To get involved with Adam threatens her privacy, her lack of visual substance, her framework. But he is a very hard man to resist. He doesn’t push. He’s just there, being kind and constant and caring and how can you fight that?

Adam tries to keep things professional. He doesn’t want to be any kind of burden to Jess who clearly has a lot on her plate but she’s just so darn wonderful it’s a hopeless case.

I turn to look at her. She pulled her hair up a couple of hours ago, high on the top of her head in a haphazard bun, and the fact is, I’ve avoided most eye contact since. Her neck is long and smooth and she has two slim, gold hoops in the cartilage of her right ear. I thought seeing her legs was bad, but this?

This is brutal.

In some ways, the result of the search is a little bit of a McGuffin – The Other Side of Disappearing is a romance, not a mystery – though the mystery is solved at the end. At least one of the revelations felt a little underdeveloped or perhaps just a bit out of place/unnecessary. I did love the way Jess and Tegan’s relationship grew and changed over the course of the book, from the initial fracturing to something better and far stronger by the end. I enjoyed Adam’s family and his steadfastness – though I was perhaps 5% confused by his obsession with his best friend. Perhaps I needed just a tiny bit more for me to truly understand their bond.

I loved Jess and Adam’s connections and contrasts. Adam is the one who reveals things. He sees Jess. He finds the lead which started the podcast search in the first place. He revealed hypocrisy within the NFL community about his friend Cope when Cope first died and has plans to reveal more. Jess is the one who has people disappearing on her and who has disappeared. But then Adam sees her and everything changes. It’s beautiful.

I am a shell collector. I’m trying so hard to coat all these precious, fragile facts about Adam in something hard and firm and inflexible.

I’m trying to make a souvenir.

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Kaetrin

Kaetrin started reading romance as a teen and then took a long break, detouring into fantasy and thrillers. She returned to romance in 2008 and has been blogging since 2010. She reads contemporary, historical, a little paranormal, urban fantasy and romantic suspense, as well as erotic romance and more recently, new adult. She loves angsty books, funny books, long books and short books. The only thing mandatory is the HEA. Favourite authors include Mary Balogh, Susanna Kearsley, Joanna Bourne, Tammara Webber, Kristen Ashley, Shannon Stacey, Sarah Mayberry, JD Robb/Nora Roberts, KA Mitchell, Marie Sexton, Patricia Briggs, Ilona Andrews, just to name a few. You can find her on Twitter: @kaetrin67.

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