I had planned to spend last Saturday being WILDLY productive — writing a few blog posts, spending at least four hours working on my book, and also (if possible) reading all the pictures books on Penguin’s spring list, in anticipation of my appointment with sales rep Biff Donovan. But on Friday evening I made the mistake of reading the first few chapters of The Year We Disappeared: A Father-Daughter Memoir by Cylin Busby and John Busby (Bloomsbury, August 2008), whose story is so completely, totally, and immediately enthralling that it made the better part of my Saturday disappear. It also made my adrenaline rise, made my heart race, and made me look pretty ridiculous. I know this because Gareth actually laughed at me, so incapable was I of successfully putting this book down and not going back to it again. At one point I even laughed at MYSELF (as I’m wont to do anyway), when I realized I was attempting to take food out of our refrigerator with my right hand without looking up from the pages of my ARC, splayed open in my left. I’ve gotten lost in the pages of a lot of books lately, but can honestly say that none of them (not even The Hunger Games) has been quite as un-put-downable or half so disturbing as this.
For those of you not already familiar with it, here’s what will appear on the flap copy of the finished book, to give you the gist:
When Cylin Busby was nine years old, she was obsessed with Izod clothing, the Muppets, and her pet box turtle. Then, in the space of a night, everything changed. Her police officer father, John, was driving to work when someone leveled a shotgun at his window. The blasts that followed left John’s jaw on the passenger seat of his car—literally. Overnight, the Busbys went from being the "family next door" to one under 24-hour armed guard, with police escorts to school, and no contact with friends. Worse, the shooter was still on the loose, and it seemed only a matter of time before he’d come after John—or someone else in the family—again. With their lives unraveling around them, and few choices remaining for a future that could never be secure, the Busby family left everything and everyone they had ever known…and simply disappeared.
As told by both father and daughter, this is a harrowing, and at times heartbreaking account of a shooting and its aftermath, even as it shows a young girl trying to make sense of the unthinkable, and the triumph of a family’s bravery in the face of crisis.
What this brief synopsis doesn’t tell you is that this book is also about politics: SERIOUSLY UGLY politics. In 1979, the year of John Busby’s shooting, the Falmouth, Massachusetts police department knowingly botched the investigation into John Busby’s attempted murder, and the sickening injustice of this is half of what makes John and Cylin’s account so riveting. John and his fellow officers had little doubt as to the identity of his shooter (or at least the person who ordered his death), but the powers-that-be (or rather, the-powers-that-then-were) were unwilling to take down a man as feared and well-connected as "Raymond Meyer" (a fake name, though any newspaper story recounting the event will reveal the real one). The town of Falmouth paid thousands and thousands of dollars for John’s medical bills during his remarkable recovery and for the 24-hour surveillance of his family, but the police department tried to make this particular crime just disappear, as they had done in previous cases of death and arsons to which "Ray" appeared to have been connected.
WHY? Fear. "Ray" (who is, yes, still alive) had managed to make plenty of people afraid of him (with good reason) and cozied up to enough people within the department to make everyone else squeamish about the possibility that any actions they took against him would come back to haunt them in the end. Which is exactly what happened to John Busby.
Reading this book I kept shaking my head to think that this is FALMOUTH we’re talking about. Corruption at this level and characters this large are things I associate with big cities and seedy towns. Not quiet (except maybe in the summer) Cape Cod communities. And that might just be the scariest thing about this book. In reading about this one scary person, and the effect his senseless brutality had on the police department of one small town, it’s hard not to wonder if corruption like this could be the norm for every community with a madman in its midst.
I love the structure of this book and the alternative points of view delivered by John and Cylin, who was nine at the time of her father’s shooting. John’s chapters open a window onto the anger he experienced as he struggled with a long, painful recovery and watched his department tiptoe around the issue of arresting the man responsible for his shooting. Cylin’s chapters reveal what it was like to be a child living through the horror of seeing your father missing half his face; being escorted to and through school by police officers; losing your friends because their parents won’t let them talk to you for fear something will then happen to them; losing, really, all sense of normalcy. Together these twin perspectives reveal what something like this does to a family. And they make you marvel at the fact that this particular family remained intact.
The events (and suspicions) described in the book are corroborated by newspaper reports of the time, leaving me with zero doubts as to the truth of the Busbys’ story. The statute of limitations on John Busby’s attempted murder has run out, so the best John, Cylin, and the rest of their family can hope for now is that other will read their story and take something positive from it. The question is, how are the residents of Falmouth likely to react? Carol Chittenden, whose bookstore Eight Cousins occupies a spot on the town’s Main Street, confessed to some nervousness about the book’s release in the Galley Talk she wrote for Children’s Bookshelf, for which I certainly don’t blame her. The wounds left by John’s shooting and "Ray’s" mishandling (or lack of handling) were never afforded any real opportunity to heal. A "Where Are They Now?" section at the back of the book explains what’s become of the story’s leading players, and a number of them are still alive and living in town. Who can guess how they’re going to receive it?
I think the average reader, though, is going to find this book completely absorbing. At our store, we plan to shelve it in both the adult and young adult sections of our store, because this is a book sure to have crossover appeal. And it’s sure to give EVERYONE something to talk about.