Disappearing in Plain Sight ― Francis Guenette
Francis Guenette lives with her husband on the West coast of British Columbia. She has an MA in counselling psychology and is on the way to completing a PhD in education psychology. Throughout the course of her life she has worked as an educator, trauma counsellor and researcher. Guenette now spends most of her time writing novels that draw on her own life experiences. The first book in her debut venture, The Crater Lake Series, is entitled Disappearing in Plain Sight and was released in 2013.
The book introduces the reader to sixteen-year-old Lisa-Marie, sent to spend the summer with her aunt Bethany in a remote town on the edge of the fictional Crater Lake. Her aunt resides in a simple A-frame within the confines of Camp Micah, a counsellor’s camp for young ways and strays. Like any sixteen-year-old, Lisa-Marie is instantly taken by the camp’s resident hunk, nineteen-year-old Justin, and as time progresses she develops confusing feelings towards Izzy Montgomery, the camp’s exceptionally beautiful and gifted trauma counsellor, and begins an unlikely friendship with Liam Collins, a thoughtful and secretive camp worker. While on the outset the close-knit community which keeps Camp Micah operating day by day may seem watertight the reader learns of hidden tensions and unspoken words just waiting to destroy the carefully constructed routines. The presence of Lisa-Marie and a new guest unleash tensions which have been simmering under the surface of the camp for some time. The reader is set to discover that all those at Camp Micah have their own secrets and guilt locked away inside them.
Over the last few days I have been looking over Guenette’s blog and something she said in a recent post really caught my eye: “Have you ever read a novel where the setting was so breathtakingly described that you almost felt as though you had seen the movie version?”. This is the effect which Disappearing in Plain Sight had on me. I not only felt as though I was watching the movie, but increasingly, as the novel progressed, as though I was at the camp ― I could smell the pencil-y scent of the cedar wood cabins, and almost feel the breeze from the lake on my face. I couldn’t have gotten a better image of the setting if the book had been illustrated. It is obvious that real-world experience has gone into Guenette’s writing ― which is exactly what Guenette was writing about in her aforementioned blog post, the inspiration behind writing. Guenette herself lives in a small, secluded cabin right by a lake [and you should see the lake! Check it out here]. Every day when she writes, she does so with a view of the lake ― it sounds absolutely perfect. Of course, Guenette draws on her own life experiences as inspiration for her work; living in a place like that, how could she not?
Guenette has a penchant for similes within her descriptions, which I find really charming. The book opens with a very memorable quote: “Lisa-Marie woke to the sound of voices and the reflection of the lake rippling and running like melted butter along the sloped, cedar-planked ceiling above her bed.” Comparing flowing water to ripples of butter conjures up the most wonderful images; nothing could make the lake seem more appealing.
All the characters in the book are incredibly well rounded, with each chapter divided into several mini chapters each following a different character. In this way the reader is able to submerge themselves within the community and grow to know the characters on an almost personal level. The first few chapters of the book are centred almost entirely on introducing each character, some of which appear very appealing and likable, and some not so much. I’m sure I am not alone when I say that I found it difficult to warm to Beulah at first. Lisa-Marie is perhaps the most central character, and the one the reader gets to know on the most personal level through her writings in her journal, Emma, named for the Jane Austen character. The central theme which links all the characters together is past trauma, as though they have been brought together at the camp for this very reason.
Disappearing in Plain Sight is undoubtedly a very well-written and enjoyable novel, but the aspect of the novel which particularly appealed to me was Guenette’s focus on the inner mind of the characters. Guenette confronts issues which are still somewhat taboo in many circles of modern society, and she does so in such a way as to make it relatable. Depression, anxiety and stress are all problems that a large percentage of the population will come into contact with in one way or another at some point in their lives. Guenette brings this to the forefront of her work, expressing character’s actions in an incredibly understanding way take, for example, Liam: looking up at the sky when he cannot sleep because he is so plagued by his thoughts. I’m sure there are many people who can relate to the feeling of comfort and security which comes from taking a duvet and lying under a skylight or in front of a large window and just being alone with the stars.
I was also very pleased by Guenette’s decision to look at bullying in her novel, and particularly her choice to highlight the issue of online bullying and the stresses of social media, issues I feel very strongly about. The online world is full of resources, but it can also be a very dark and sinister place. The way Guenette expresses Lisa-Marie’s feelings is so perfect that I am sure a lot of people who have experienced bullying to some extent can relate to her words. Lisa-Marie describes just wanting the voices to stop, to just get away from what is happening to her, without necessarily thinking about the result. Her only desire is for peace and quiet, to be left alone. Guenette conveys an incredibly complex feeling with remarkable simplicity.
This brings me to perhaps the strongest theme which runs throughout the novel: growth and progression. Throughout the course of the text, we learn the sad past of each character and over time witness them learning to deal with their problems. This in itself reflects a quotation from the beginning of the book:
“Izzy believed that people had their own answers to what they needed in order to heal and that these answers were embedded in the stories they told.”
The answers, for many of the characters, come out in the pages of Guenette’s novel. The ever-present lone wolf howling in the distance echoes the loneliness and worry felt throughout the camp. I don’t want to ruin the ending of the book for anyone, so I will just say that the final paragraph serves to emphasise the natural progression of the characters.
I really enjoyed my first experience with Guenette’s work. At first, I found it was the setting of the novel which most appealed to me. I developed a strong desire to visit camp Micah and dangle my feet into the cool water of the lake. Guenette’s writing style is natural and fluid, allowing you to escape into the incredible scene she has created. As the book progressed each character began to speak to me, telling me their stories in turn. The intricate and multifaceted storyline is rewarding and well executed, with a carefully planned ending, which is satisfying without being fairy-tale-like. Overall, I would rate Disappearing in Plain Sight very highly and would strongly recommend anyone thinking of reading the book to give it a go.
Disappearing in Plain Sight and the newly released sequel The Light Never Lies are available for kindle and in paperback from Amazon.
Many thanks to Francis Guenette for sending me a free review copy of the book.