Before We Disappear

HarperTeen. Sept. 2021. 512p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780063025226.
Gr 9 Up–Jack and Wilhelm, the teenage protagonists of this dual narrative, have a lot in common. They are both wards of conniving adults, have unique talents that their guardians manipulate for their own benefits, and are currently working as magician’s assistants at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, a World’s Fair that really took place in Seattle in 1909. Jack’s guardian, The Enchantress, is a gifted magician who uses Jack’s skills at showmanship and sleight-of-hand, respectively, to perform—and steal—amazing illusions. Wilhelm’s guardian, Teddy, kidnapped him years ago when he discovered Wil’s talent for Traveling: spontaneously transporting himself or others to spaces far away. Teddy comes to the Expo disguised as a gifted magician who seems to have particularly nefarious plans, though of what, Wil is unsure. As their lives become intertwined, Jack and Wil fall in love, and Jack plots to free Wil of Teddy’s clutches. Interesting subplots include Jack’s surrogate sister’s pursuit of respect from The Enchantress, the sweet love story between Jack’s friend Ruth and Teddy’s assistant Jessamy, and The Enchantress’s and Teddy’s attempts to swindle rich paramours out of their money. In the final act, all of these subplots convene for a show-stopping magic show. Hutchinson’s detailed historical research is evident; the Expo is so lively that it almost feels like a character of its own. An author’s note describes Hutchinson’s process, including his choice to celebrate queer joy despite the historical inaccuracies. Ruth is Black, and all other major characters are white.
VERDICT A lovely, fun, rollicking book that belongs in every library serving teens.

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