Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Year We Disappeared: A Father-Daughter Memoir

by Cylin and John Busby
Reviewed by Melissa

There are books you need to read because you enjoy the story, or because the characters or the writing just pull you in. Then there are the books you need to read because the story's important, because somehow the book makes you look and think about life in a different way. This book was one of those.

That's not to say it was easy to get through. Officer John Busby was heading to work the night of August 31, 1979, when a car pulled up beside his and pumped a round of bullets through the window of his car. That single act changed the rest of his -- and his family's -- life. Cylin was 9 at the time, and this is the story of the year after the shooting, as their family struggled to deal with the surgeries, the insecurities (was the person who shot John out to get the whole family?), the stress, and eventually, the relocation of the family to a more secure hiding spot. It's a dual narrative: part of the story is from John's perspective, part from Cylin's, and it tells an interesting tale of the differing perspectives of and reactions to the single event.

Out of the two narratives, John's was the more difficult to read, primarily because his experience was the more intense. The first few chapters were a detailed account of the shooting, and there were many times when I had to put the book down. I'm not one for medical drama, and this was definitely a medical drama, at least in the beginning. He experienced extreme pain, frustration at not being able to talk (his lower jaw had been blown clean off his face), anger at the police department and at the man who he figured shot him, and feelings of revenge. In addition, through John's narrative, the back story of his dealings with the crime family responsible was told, including the events immediately leading up to the shooting. It's not a pretty story, or a fun one to read. I was often saddened that this could happen, would happen, to someone who is just trying to do his job in the best, most honest way he can.

Cylin's narrative was equally saddening, but for different reasons. Trying to capture what she thought and felt at age nine, Cylin spends much of her narrative being in the dark about the true events of the shooting, and the reasons why everything is happening to her. She loses her friends, mostly because they're afraid (or their parents are) of her now, especially since there is always a detail of police officers following her (and her older brothers) following her around. She can't go play at her friends houses; she doesn't want her friends to play at her house. She's disturbed not only by the physical changes in her father, but also the emotional ones. By the end, when the family is forced (by necessity, mostly) to relocate, she's essentially a prisoner in her own home. One of the saddest passages was the happy afternoon she was permitted to spend at a friend's house: all she wanted was her normal life back.

It's an intense book, one that I wanted to put down because it was so emotionally wracking, but I couldn't because it was gripping. It is also one that made me think about the consequences of our actions, and how they are always more far-reaching than we can ever imagine. And because it's a true story, it's that much more powerful. And worth reading.


Lexi said...

I saw this posted on Publisher's Weekly's website as "children's nonfiction." Your review makes it sound like it might not be appropriate for kids. What is your suggestion for who this book is appropriate for? Thanks.

Melissa said...

Lexi -- I would say 14 and up, generally. It's a disturbing book, but only because they go into detail about the shooting and recovery. I think a 12 yo who could handle the medical dramas on TV would be okay with is.