I am not a big fantasy reader but when I noticed that Before We Disappear was loosely classified as a “‘historical’ fantasy”—I decided to give it a try.
The historical part is the story’s primary setting: the famed Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, perhaps more commonly known as the 1909 Seattle world’s fair. I really knew nothing about that historical event (and you won’t learn much from the book’s context) but descriptions of places and events referenced in the story made me want to know more about it, particularly in the way of background, legacy, and images.
At the heart of Shaun David Hutchinson’s YA novel is romance—actually two romances: one between main characters Jack and Wilhelm (the story’s two narrators) and another, secondary one involving the attraction of Jack’s friend Ruth and Wil’s coworker/associate and confidante Jessamy. I enjoyed this fantasy because the magical fantasy was not overemphasized and because the bigger fantasy ended up being the story’s situational fantasy: the placement of two same-sex (and one of them also interracial) couples into a turn-of-the-20th-century world.
While development of Jack and Wil’s relationship is PAINfully slow, I didn’t find myself losing hope or becoming too disappointed! In fact, this pacing left room for contemplations on the meanings of freedom, happiness, and family, as well as several reflections on love: what is it? how do you know if it is? what does it mean? As an example of these thoughts, consider this philosophical exchange (pages 337–338) between Ruth and Jack, narrated by Jack:
“If you’re happy, that’s what matters, right?”
Ruth nodded, but she didn’t seem convinced. “Being happy is worth a lot, but people’s paths don’t always run together, even when those people care an awful lot about each other.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess it depends on whether you think your life is like a river or a railroad.”
“If our life’s like a river, cutting through the earth, there probably aren’t a lot of ways to move its path. It’s going to go where it goes, and that’s just how it is.” I knew it was possible to change the course of a river, but it didn’t seem like confusing the issue would be helpful to Ruth. “But if your life’s like a railroad track, then you can lay those tracks down wherever you want. They can run beside other tracks, crisscross a few even, and if you don’t like where your tracks lead you, you can pull them up and lay some new ones.”
The hardback edition I read weighed in at almost 500 pages, which may discourage or challenge some readers; however, the chapters are short and the text is well written with easy vocabulary, appropriate descriptions, occasional action, and a flowing style that combined to pull this reader eagerly to an end I didn’t want to reach by the time I got there!
Get your copy!
Buy a copy of Before We Disappear by Shaun David Hutchinson for yourself through the-gay-editor’s online bookstore. If you need more convincing than I’ve done in my short review of this book, take a look at some of these independent reviews:
- with a lot of information (and potential spoilers), at ForeverYoungAdult.com
- with a brief plot description, at KirkusReviews.com
- with some teaching and parental guidelines, provided by Common Sense Media
And, read on . . .
the-gay-editor has compiled a number of other titles for your reading pleasure, and all are LGBTQ+ focused. Visit our special bookstore page to find links to book selections for adults and younger readers that include these recently added titles:
- The Stars and the Blackness Between Them, by Junauda Petrus
- Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights, by Ann Bausum
- The Ruin of a Rake, by Cat Sebastian
the-freelance-editor has also built a bookstore for writers, aspiring editors, and readers of all interests. Visit that bookstore page for an index to categories and links to those selections.
Want to learn more about the AYPE?
Seattle’s Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition took place, in real life, from June 1, 1909, through October 16, 1909. References in Before We Disappear piqued my curiosity and led to me uncovering the following sources of images and information:
- a general overview “online exhibit” by Special Collections staff at the University of Washington Libraries that includes images of the Cascades and the Pay Streak, both referenced in Hutchinson’s YA historical fantasy;
- a collection of 1,200 images (again from Special Collections staff at the University of Washington Libraries) and more specifically the Alaska Building, which figures prominently towards the end of Before We Disappear; and
- this private online collection of research, images, and additional resources.
Others exist; these will get you started.
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originally posted January 10, 2023
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image information: Featured image used via the book publisher, HarperCollins Children’s Books.
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