By Helen Grant
Published by Penguin
Katharina Linden vanished on the day of the February Karneval. The last time anyone actually saw her, she was standing near the fountain, waiting to join the procession. The Karneval is always an exciting day in the small town of Bad Munstereifel, and the last thing anyone expects is for a young girl to disappear.
The happy atmosphere turns to suspicion as word spreads of her disappearance. During the following days neither local search parties nor the police find any clues about Katharina's whereabouts.
Helen Grant's impressive debut novel The Vanishing of Katharina Linden is one of those rare books that refuses to downsize style or content just because it's written for teenage readers. This is just an excellently written and totally absorbing book that grabs both youth and adult readers.
Although the story of Katharina's disappearance is told from the point of view of a young central character, this novel is more sophisticated than many adult bestsellers. Grant is a classy storyteller and her first novel is a splendid read.
Set in a small, self-absorbed German town in 1998, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden focuses on young Pia, the daughter of a German father and English mother, who is ostracised at school and saddled with an oddball friend called Stink Stefan. Pia is fed up with her schoolmates and hates her snobby English cousins.
Things are not going well for Pia, but her own problems are put on the back burner when young girls start to disappear.
Katharina is the first to vanish, but she is followed by others. Pia and Stefan don't think the police are getting anywhere, so they decide to do some investigating themselves.
They turn to Mr Schiller, a elderly man who entertains the two friends with ghoulish ancient folk stories. Mr Schiller is a friendly old soul who knows a lot about the residents of Bad Munstereifel and just might have some information about the mysterious vanishings.
There is not a boring page in Katharina Linden, and both readers of all ages will race though the book, desperate to know the truth. This is definitely one of the best written youth fiction books of the year.
Both Pia's future and the vanishing of the eponymous Katharina have unexpected outcomes. Katharina Linden is an enthralling and terrifically entertaining book. And it is very addictive. Don't start reading it unless you've got a couple of plan-free days because you won't want to put it down once you've read the opening paragraph. Wonderful stuff.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com