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Books in Brief: Vanishing Girls, Crazy Love You

YOUNG ADULT

Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver; HarperCollins, 357 pages ($18.99) Grades 9 and up.

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Best-selling author Lauren Oliver (“Before I Die,” the dystopian “Delirium” trilogy, middle-grade ghost story “Liesl & Po”) offers a fine psychological thriller, with a surprise twist, in “Vanishing Girls.” The novel uses alternating narrators sisters Nick and Dara and jumps back and forth in time, before and after the terrible night when Nick drove her car into a concrete wall, an accident that left Dara horribly scarred and the sisters estranged. Nick has always admired and envied her confident, beautiful younger sister; Dara has always resented Nick, the well-behaved, good student, parental favorite. Nick gets a summer job working at a rundown amusement park, only to discover that her former best friend Parker is working there too. Then a 9-year-old girl goes missing, Dara fails to show up for her own birthday party, and Nick finds disturbing photos on Dara’s cellphone and fears something terrible may have happened to her too. Oliver does a masterful job exploring family dynamics, the unconscious casting of the “good” or “bad” child. The amusement park, with a whole portrait gallery of oddball characters makes for a colorful and occasionally spooky backdrop for part of the action. And Oliver so deftly weaves her tale, that the twist does indeed take the reader by surprise.

– Jean Westmoore

THRILLER

Crazy Love You by Lisa Unger; Touchstone, 352 pages ($17.90)

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In Lisa Unger’s new psychological thriller, “Crazy Love You,” narrator Ian Paine makes his living as the writer and illustrator of a popular graphic novel series called Fatboy and Priss.

His books reverse the common gender roles of male superheroes protecting vulnerable women, with Fatboy a hulking schlub who might as well have a target for bullies tattooed on his broad back, and Priss – well, Priss is something else.

She looks like the comic book-graphic novel-video game female stereotype: a mane of mad red hair, a lovely face, huge breasts, tiny waist, “Valentine a--” and muscular thighs. In Priss’ case, those thighs earned their muscles as she kicked butt whenever anyone threatened her beloved Fatboy. But, as Ian tells us, there’s one problem with Priss: “She’s crazy. She’s vindictive, vengeful and full of rage on Fatboy’s behalf.”

But it’s all just a fantasy, right?

Well, yes, except that Ian, now a nerdy-cute hipster with a healthy paycheck and a Tribeca loft, was as a small-town kid morbidly obese, peculiar and picked upon.

And his best friend was a girl named Priss, who stood by him, for better or worse, through not only high school struggles but a terrible event in his childhood that left his baby sister dead and his mother permanently institutionalized.

As the novel opens, it’s better days for Ian – not only is Fatboy and Priss a success, but he has met Megan, a supportive young woman. Ian is in love with her and almost as in love with her doting parents, Julia and Binky, who welcome him warmly to their charmed inner circle, a powerful attraction for a young man who grew up mostly on his own, with an absent mother and a father busy running a contracting business.

The only one who’s not happy, it seems, is Priss. And if Priss isn’t happy ...

Unger, a best-selling thriller author who lives in Clearwater, has long been adept at writing suspenseful, surprising novels, and “Crazy Love You” ups the ante.– Colette Bancroft, Tampa Bay Times