About The Mysterious Disappearance by David Levithan
When I started writing YA, I was writing into an absence – creating the books I wished I’d had, and summoning stories that I wasn’t seeing on the shelves. By doing this, I inadvertently made myself a writing career, and have been very gratified to see that the absence I was writing into no longer exists because of the work of dozens (if not hundreds) of authors. There are other absences in YA that still need to be addressed – but not mine.
My desire to write middle-grade is entirely difference.
With middle-grade, I’m writing into a presence, not an absence.
I am writing into the presence of middle-grade books throughout my childhood, the stories that taught me to love stories. Their spines still form the pattern of my childhood on my bookshelves: Ellen Raskin, E. L. Konigsberg, C. S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, Judy Blume, et al. Just like my friend Rebecca Stead did so masterfully with When You Reach Me, I set out to write a book that could fit comfortably on those childhood shelves.
Which leads to The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S. (as told to his brother).
As a YA author, I’ve often been asked, “Why don’t you write middle-grade?” And my answer has been, “Because I haven’t had any great middle-grade ideas that I’m eager to write myself.” Then I had a random idea . . . and it stuck. And it was middle-grade.
Now, it’s important at this juncture to say that when I say I have an idea, what I really mean is I have a premise. The stories I write don’t come with a beginning, middle, and ending. They come with a beginning. Period. And then if I want to find out the middle and the ending . . . well, I have to write it.
With The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S. (as told to his brother), the idea/premise took the form of a question (as it often does):
What if your brother disappeared for six days . . . and then returned on the sixth night with a story about where he’d been that no rational person could ever believe?
That’s what happens to Lucas. His brother Aidan disappears. Then reappears. And tells him that he was—
This is where I stop. My idea/premise had about two more sentences to it, but to share them here would be to tell you too much of the story before you’ve had a chance to read the story – and what fun is that?
Is Aidan telling the truth? Lying? Should Lucas’s care for him be diminished if it’s the latter instead of the former? I went into the book having no idea what the answers to these questions were. I wrote the story in order to find the story . . . which is, incidentally, how life works. Unless you’ve found a way to outline your life ahead of time. If you have, let me know how that works, and how you managed to outline 2020 ahead of time.
Right now, in fact, one of the only certainties I have about 2021 is that this book will come out on Groundhog Day. I’m as excited about this as fifth-grade me was to discover a new book by any of the authors named above. (Except Rebecca. I’d have to wait a couple decades to read her books. But, goodness, fifth-grade me would have loved them.) It’s pretty fun to write into a presence, and to tip a hat (and a paper airplane) in the direction of so many of the things I loved as a young reader. If I can be a presence for young readers myself (and older readers who love reading middle-grade) . . . well, that would be the highest compliment of all.
All of which is to say: I hope you love this book.
When not writing during spare hours on weekends, David Levithan is editorial director at Scholastic and the founding editor of the PUSH imprint, which is devoted to finding new voices and new authors in teen literature. His acclaimed novels Boy Meets Boy and The Realm of Possibility started as stories he wrote for his friends for Valentine’s Day (something he’s done for the past 22 years and counting) that turned themselves into teen novels. He’s often asked if the book is a work of fantasy or a work of reality, and the answer is right down the middle—it’s about where we’re going, and where we should be.