‘How to Disappear’ is the story of Vicky (a teenager girl) who learns how to survive with her extreme social anxiety and get support from the people around her. When her best friend moves away she is forced to change her social life and navigate high school alone. In this compelling story, Vicky finds herself by using social media and photoshop to help see herself as she wants to be. I love her character and the story, and I hope that you do too after reading it (or my review).

I give this book 4.5 stars (out of five). I really, really liked this book. It’s super relatable if you’re an anxious teenager and I love the entire concept and the use of social media in this story. I think this book would be something good for all teenagers (generally) to read, whether you have anxiety or not or who you are, I think you’ll either be able to relate to the main character and her struggles or learn more about the people around you or the things other students may be going through or experiencing.

Starting off right away, the main character is a high school girl named Vicky Decker who has pretty bad social anxiety and is really shy because of it. The girl who’d always been her best and nearly only friend Jenna moved away and now Vicky has to deal with high school without her other half or knowing how to talk to people. At the beginning of the book she’s just starting to try and say hi to new people, she’s just starting to try speaking for herself. Vicky definitely has some mishaps and because of those, pressure from her mom and seeing Jenna out and making new friends (and pretty much leaving her behind) she starts photoshopping.

More specifically, first she photoshops herself into a photo of Jenna with people from her school and says that she made new friends to keep her mom happy. And after that into a picture from a recent concert that she sends to Jenna to prove she isn’t alone without her, but it keeps growing and changing. Eventually after discovering herself more and really letting go while taking photos, Vicky starts a new Instagram account called Vicuirous {I’ll explain the meaning/importance of the name later on}. And she posts a photoshopped photo, one of her walking away from the camera and across a beach at sunset. She captions it, #alone. And she gets dozens of likes and followers, her eyes are opened to the world of people on Instagram who feel alone and lost. {Once she starts posting things that show her face, she is wearing a costume of sorts. Weird clothing, a purple and orange wig and makeup she’d never usually wear. Vicurious feels like a completely different person to Vicky, but they’re also the same}.

[Spoiler warning, after the end of the plot summary whether or not there’s spoilers will be listed at the top of each paragraph.]

{I’m summarizing this very basically here but} Throughout the next few months, Vicky is pressured into joining the yearbook club which she’s actually perfect for because of her photoshop skills. She makes friends (or more) with a guy named Lipton and she sort of loses contact with Jenna for a while. Vicurious gains thousands of followers as Vicky keeps posting more and more, but the followers and attention sort of scare her. People at school are starting to talk about the account, her mother sees it on Facebook and one of her favourite Youtubers made a video about her account (later on, as she gains more followers, she’s even invited onto the Ellen Show). What if people figure out Vicky is Vicurious?

All the while Vicky has started leaving positive comments under other people’s posts. Her first post was under #alone so she sees lots of people who are down, possibly at their lowest. She knows how one or two positive comments impacted her, so she spreads them around and encourages her followers to do the same. And in the end this has a huge impact on lots of different people, even the ones right in front of Vicky at her school. Popular guys start reaching out to ‘nobodies’ and asking how they are, what’s going on, if they’re okay. People are going out of their ways to make sure everyone feels seen and heard and cared for (even if it’s just surface level). Vicurious has a big influence and she changes things for the better.

In the dramatic climax things are going badly between Vicky and Jenna. And for reasons I’m not explaining in this summary, Vicky had her phone taken away so she didn’t see any of the messages, voicemails or texts from Jenna for a few weeks. When she gets her phone back she sees she has a lot of missed messages from Jenna, and they aren’t good at all. Jenna has been feeling alone all this time while Vicky was trying to stop strangers from feeling the same. To the point where Vicky is almost certain that Jenna was near a cliff and possibly going to kill herself. Without an address for where she is (because Jenna is states away from Vicky) or being able to contact Jenna or her parents Vicky doesn’t have a lot of options. And she turns to Vicurious to find Jenna, using a picture she’d sent. Vicky makes a post trying to get anyone who can help identify where it is (to help find Jenna) and she does it using her real name. It works, not only do they figure out where she is and alert police but they manage to reach someone who is actually there and that person physically finds Jenna and makes sure she is safe. In the end, Vicky and Jenna both promise to never leave each other again. (And everyone knowing Vicky is Vicurious doesn’t go so badly either).

[Slight spoilers]
I really liked how the romance between Vicky and Lipton although really well written, cute and fun to read wasn’t the main focus of the story. It was focusing on Vicky’s friendship with Jenna and what losing that meant to both of them, it’s the reason Vicky starts Vicuirous and Jenna tries to change herself to fit in. And while Vicky starts expanding and trying or having to push herself to do more things, her relationship with Lipton was a very positive and central part of that but it wasn’t all of it (he wasn’t her entire social life). She was getting a lot braver on and offline and I’m just glad that although the romance was one of the big parts of the story it wasn’t the main focus overall. I really appreciated how it focused on Vicky’s character and growth.

I also really liked Vicky and Jenna’s friendship and how even though they went through a really rough patch, in the end they were still best friends. And the whole reason Vicky really started that Instagram account was to show to Jenna that she was out there. I just liked how the account Vicky created in part because of Jenna was what helped save her and that in the moment when Vicky didn’t know where Jenna was or if she was okay Vicky was completely willing to lose all animosity. She put her real name out there in an instant to try and save her best friend, even though the safe space she created herself through Vicurious was precious to her (and she didn’t want anyone to know she was the one running the account). Even the name of the Instagram account Vicurious is a call back to their friendship and how Vicky would always say the word wrong and Jenna would always correct her. It’s the perfect name and it fits so well with the rest of the story (the name of the account is important and it had to be something meaningful, like this).

Something I really loved about Vicky’s character was that even though she never really had a lot of friends or was the center of attention (until the end) she still noticed all the little details about the people around her. Vicky saw what many other people didn’t, she looked and paid attention to each person’s little quirks that are unique about them. She literally saw the best of people and saw the people who felt like they weren’t being seen or heard. When Hallie (the “perfect ballerina”) and Raj (the dude who posted daily selfies) were both down Vicky noticed and wanted to do something to make them feel better and she actually did end up doing that by influencing others to do the same for more people who aren’t feeling good, seen/heard, etc. She sees everyone and what they’re going through even when nobody else notices.

[Slight spoilers]
Another thing I really loved was how at one point lots of Vicuirous’s followers asked her to photoshop herself into their photos and instead she found ones with people adrift in the background and put herself next to them. She made it so no one in the photo was alone, even the people in the background. And something similar to this that I thought was also very meaningful was when she wrote out a whole bunch of negative hashtags onto a picture of herself (in Vicurious costume). This really shows all the sadness of her followers and spreads the message to look out for others. She also later on did the same thing but with positive words and the message that even when you’re busy taking care of other people you still have to look after yourself. And one thing I didn’t like was the sort of unrealistic response to Vicurious’s growth, even if she had 500k followers most people still wouldn’t know who she is. Unless there was someone that tied the account to her location it’s extremely unrealistic that her parents or people at her school would all be talking about her right away based on the amount of followers she had. But her account did grow super fast so I’ll give the author that, if she’d had higher numbers this part would’ve made more sense. It’s more realistic for Youtubers and lots of people to know the account after she hits 1 million or at least above 500k because nowadays on the internet anything under a million isn’t extremely impressive from a viewer’s standpoint.

I hated, 100% hated Vicky’s mom and her dad for not interfering. As someone with social anxiety myself I would be so mad and upset if my parents treated me the way her parents did. Not only did her mom openingly express that she didn’t like that Vicky wasn’t being social but she also tried to force her daughter to dress a certain way and to talk to certain people and go to social gatherings, specifically parties. And it wasn’t just what she did but also the way she did it, she made Vicky feel even worse about herself for something she can’t control. And she’s literally the reason Vicky started photoshopping herself into photos, because she wanted to show them to her mom and make her happy. Because she’s disappointed Vicky isn’t super social so Vicky wants to make her think she’s hanging out with people. But no one as a parent should ever make their kids feel like they have to hide or change who they are just to make their parents proud or happy with them. And whenever Vicky’s mom was being possessive and a bad parent by trying to change who Vicky is without even attempting to understand her, her dad didn’t do anything and often sided with his wife. Which I found to me even more frustrating as a reader he never said anything or really tried to stop his wife. She always minimizes what Vicky is feeling and says she’s “just shy” and doesn’t think any further into it. She thinks that she needs to push Vicky to face her fears, when in reality she was pushing her way too far and made her have a panic attack. Her mom never actually looked at how Vicky was feeling and was focusing too much on what it would mean to her if Vicky was the way she wanted her to be. Even later on in the book after Vicky’s mom acknowledges that she messed up and starts trying to understand her, Vicky still doesn’t feel like she could be fully open with her mom or even introduce the possibility/concept of social anxiety. {And when she took Vicky’s phone away she was being very selfish and unreasonable, I hate her.}

Overall I really, really liked this book. It’s so relatable and funny and just amazing to read. It makes me super happy to read the story of someone like me growing and learning and spreading kindness into a world full of hate. This story is important, it could change someone’s life just like a single comment can change someone’s mood. I really recommend this, mainly to teenage readers because that’s who this book applies to the most. But everyone and anyone should read this if you get the chance to!