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One By One They Disappear

By Mike Lucas

Reviewed by Tehani Croft

Karla’s life is upended by Hitler’s war on her people, forcing her family into hiding. When bombing destroys her world, an unexpected lifeline appears and she escapes to the mountains. But the idyllic village hides dark secrets, both of the war beyond and something more uncanny. Who can Karla trust to help her, and possibly save them all?
Author Mike Lucas revisits some familiar stylistic choices in this novel, utilising folklore and a sense of supernatural unease to immerse in the historical era. However, this appears self-consciously inserted, and added to a convoluted structure of frequent flashbacks and out-of-sequence events, the novel feels bloated and somewhat confusing at times. Karla’s actions and thoughts seemed unlikely for her young age, and it is difficult to judge who this book is for. It feels too complicated and overlong for middle grade, yet not complex or emotionally engaging enough for young adults, though an appealing secondary cast provide interest.
Readers seeking a historical thriller that incorporates the supernatural may be frustrated by the lack of action, while the creepy elements may be off-putting to a more general audience. The ultimate combination of real atrocities with paranormal consequences was justified through the telling, though perhaps contributes to an odd sense for the reader of not really knowing what message the story is meant to convey.
Penguin Books,  2024
Tehani Croft is a teacher librarian, academic, publisher and literary awards judge. She has reviewed for venues such as Magpies, Books+Publishing, CBCA and more, and is passionate about young adult and speculative fiction, though has been known to read a cereal box when bored.
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