By: Helen Grant
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: August 2010
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: June 9, 2010
Poor Pia Kolvenbach. The young girl has just lost her dear grandmother, or Oma, Kristel and instead of receiving sympathy, the children at school tease her as the girl whose grandmother exploded. Oma Kristel didn’t really explode, her sweater and hair, drenched in too much hair spray, caught fire and soon engulfed the elderly woman. The teasing is cruel and Pia is ostracized, but there’s so much more in store for the girl that soon the horrible incident of Oma Kristel’s death will be overshadowed by far more sinister events.
The Vanishing of Katharina Linden takes place in the sleepy German town of Bad Münstereifel where everybody knows each other and gossip is abundant. The gossip centers around daily happenings until the day Katharina Linden disappears. The child was participating in the annual Karneval parade, along with the other children in town, all dressed in costume. Pia and her only friend, StinkStefan (the most unpopular kid in school) remember seeing Katharina that day, but have no recollection of her disappearance. The police are stumped and so Pia and Stefan decide it is up to them to solve the mystery.
Kindly old Herr Schiller, a friend of Pia’s deceased grandmother, takes the two children under his wing, telling them fabulous (and scary) ghost stories. At first the stories keep the two children entertained but soon Pia starts thinking that perhaps the ghosts from Herr Schiller's tales have something to do with Katharina's disappearance. Could one of the ghosts from Herr Schiller’s stories have taken her? Or perhaps it was Herr Schiller’s odd brother, Herr Düster. Most townspeople suspect Herr Düster and gradually Pia and Stefan add their suspicions. When other girls disappear, the pair wonder if they should sneak into Herr Düster’s house and investigate.
Told in the first person by Pia, the author has realistically created a child’s voice, complete with the reasoning and insecurities that would be expected of a youngster. She has also fashioned a world so real, so creepy, that it draws the reader right into the story from the very first page. I loved the stories Herr Schiller told the children, particularly the ones involving ‘Unshockable Hans.’ The author kept me wondering until almost the end of the book if I was reading a ghost story or if there was a logical explanation for the girls’ disappearances. What fun!
To further the imagery of life in a quiet little German town, the characters use a fair amount of German vocabulary throughout (there’s a glossary with words and phrases at the back of the book). Many are familiar to most readers – Auf Wiedersehen – while others – Vorsicht – may be new. The usage did not detract from the reading and in fact, aided in setting the tone of the story.
Quill says: Join Pia on an adventure into a seemingly harmless small town where secrets are kept and ghosts just may exist.