In David Levithan's absorbing The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S., not only does 11-year-old Lucas not know where his older brother went, he doesn't know why Aidan disappeared at all. There have been no sibling quarrels, no instability in the home, no school bullying... Aidan just vanished.
And then the 12-year-old returns as mysteriously as he left. Lucas finds him in the attic of their home, passed out next to a dresser, with nothing amiss save for a single leaf in Aidan's hair--a leaf that is diamond-shaped, bright blue and surely not of this world. Lucas pockets it and says nothing. The police question the unharmed tween about his whereabouts and receive a baffling answer: Aidan felt a breeze coming from the dresser, peeked inside and found "somewhere else." The police make Narnia jokes, but Aidan is serious--it was another world, there were creatures and languages unfamiliar to him, and he was there about a month by their calendar (six days by ours). The more he's pushed, the more he's made fun of and the more Aidan doubles down on his story.
As with some of his earlier works (Every Day; Boy Meets Boy), Levithan masterfully puts a light speculative touch on this work of (mostly) realistic fiction. Aidan's having to retell his experience moves him to concoct more banal explanations, and his anguish is achingly palpable. But the parents and other adult characters that make up his earthly family are warm, loving and funny--no caricatures or clichés to be found in this portal fantasy set in our side of the portal. --Sarah Hannah Gómez, freelance critic and doctoral candidate, University of Arizona