Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall

(Last Updated On: April 3, 2021)

Friends, Rules for Vanishing is YA horror / mystery in the faux-documentary style of The Blair Witch Project and it is exactly what this Spooky Season needs!

About the Book

Publisher: Viking Books  |  Release Date: September 24, 2019  |  Pages: 416
Genre: YA, Horror  |  Format: Paperback  |  Source: Publisher via BookishFirst

Rules for Vanishing coverIn the faux-documentary style of The Blair Witch Project comes the campfire story of a missing girl, a vengeful ghost, and the girl who is determined to find her sister–at all costs.

Once a year, the path appears in the forest and Lucy Gallows beckons. Who is brave enough to find her–and who won’t make it out of the woods?

It’s been exactly one year since Sara’s sister, Becca, disappeared, and high school life has far from settled back to normal. With her sister gone, Sara doesn’t know whether her former friends no longer like her…or are scared of her, and the days of eating alone at lunch have started to blend together. When a mysterious text message invites Sara and her estranged friends to “play the game” and find local ghost legend Lucy Gallows, Sara is sure this is the only way to find Becca–before she’s lost forever. And even though she’s hardly spoken with them for a year, Sara finds herself deep in the darkness of the forest, her friends–and their cameras–following her down the path. Together, they will have to draw on all of their strengths to survive. The road is rarely forgiving, and no one will be the same on the other side.

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My Review

☠️ You can read an excerpt on!

Holy moly, ghouls and pals! This book. I was looking for a spooky read and this faux-documentary style story in the vein of The Blair Witch Project looked incredibly promising. Not only does it deliver on the spookiness, but it is so much more than that. If you are a fan of found footage and mixed media storytelling, please add this one to your October TBRs.


The writing is effortless and instantly engaging. I love the quick and snappy flow to the story and how cohesive it feels despite being told in a series of mixed media documents that are assembled a bit out of order. The way the files are organized makes for a tense thriller of a read that is difficult to put down. (Honestly, there is so much I WANT to say about how masterfully crafting and plotted this story is, but I will refrain because I don’t want to ruin the experience for you. Please DM me though when you read it so we can screech!)

“Ghost stories are a vibrant, essential part of local culture.”

As a person who spent many a night in high school driving around Elfin Forest in search of the Lady in White, I’ve long been fascinated by local legends and the grains of truth within the lore. I love me a story revolving around local legends, and the local lore surrounding the Legend of Lucy Gallows? I’d totally wander the forest at night to seek the truth, too.

“In the house in the town in the woods on the road are the halls that breathe. The singing will lure you the smoke will infest you the words will unmake you the woman will hate you.”

I had the expectation that this would be a tense and plot-driven tale but was so pleasantly surprised to find a cast of fully developed characters with robust backstories. Beneath the surface lay layers of complexity with the characters and their complicated relationships with one another, adding another layer of tension to the story because you are equally invested in the characters not only surviving the path but also returning to normal.

I felt so intensely connected with Sara and the way she retreated into herself after Becca vanished as if she didn’t want to lose anyone else so she preemptively stepped back. But Marshall also nails the feelings of guilt and shame associated with that self-isolation, along with the irrational anger that her friends eventually moved on. But despite that, even after being effectively ghosted for a year, Sara’s friends all show up in the woods that night to be here for her. 

TRINA (4:21 pm): I left Sara off because we need to talk about what to do and I don’t want her shutting us down.
TRINA (4:24 pm): So . . . what are we going to do?
ANTHONY (4:25 pm): I’m going. Whatever anyone else decides.
TRINA (4:25 pm): Me too.

I love the focus on both sibling and platonic love in this book. Especially since Becca is adopted. Only about six months apart in age, Sara and Becca grew up very close. I love that adopted sisterly love is highlighted here because I feel like that is so rare in media to see.

I also love how effortlessly diverse this book is and how it mirrors the diversity of the real world perfectly. The cast of characters has people of various ethnicity and sexual orientation (and there may even be a budding f/f relationship!). Even more impressive is that ableism and insensitivity are called out multiple times in text (making fun of Vanessa’s stutter, jokes about suicide, etc.) and the person apologizes and stops their harmful behavior. This is the kind of book I want to see published today.

“You can never catch up with her, they say, and you will find yourself alone in the bewildering woods, with no sign of a road or a girl or a clear way home.

So be careful what roads you take, and be careful who you follow down them.”

Now the creep factor? I am a tough person to ask in terms of gauging how scary a book is because I grew up on horror and I think I have a different scale than most people. While I was never outright terrified, the writing is intensely descriptive and atmospheric. The tension builds as the narrative continues and Marshall is not shy about describing some truly gruesome things that may be nightmare fuel for some.

A word of warning for those who like finite answers: as is typical with found footage horror, there are a lot of questions at the end of this book. Who requested the files in the first place? Who acquired them? What happened? The ending felt abrupt to me and I might have tossed my book on the floor… and then I remembered the comparison to The Blair Witch Project. (Which pissed me off so much when I first watched it that I threw my flip flop at my television.) And while I am still full of questions, I have to say that it is executed incredibly well – and Marshall does provide a few more bits of information beyond the guy-standing-in-the-corner inspired end scene so the reader can determine their own meaning.

Overall, Rules for Vanishing is a riveting page-turner perfect for October reading. It’s more than just a paranormal horror read. Marshall’s writing is tense and will keep you on the edge of your seat, the atmosphere and horrors creeping up on you while you are invested in the characters and their issues. I cannot recommend this book enough!

Content warnings: abuse (referenced), body horror, death, depictions of grief (including a very questionable parent response), hallucinations, loss of a loved one, suicide (referenced)
Representation: adoption, disability rep (Jeremy is deaf), lgbtqiap+ (lesbian and bisexual characters), racially diverse, stutter rep (Vanessa)

ARC sent to me by the publisher, Viking Books via Bookish First, in exchange for my honest review! Quotations are taken from an uncorrected proof and are subject to change upon final publication.

Are you a fan of found footage horror stories? What about mixed media narratives? Do you think you will pick up Rules for Vanishing this spooky season?

spacer_wLet’s go on another adventure together!


  1. dbsguidetothegalaxy

    September 19, 2019 at 5:30 AM

    KAL!! Are you going to make me recommend another book to my library? I absolutely love love love found footage and mixed media’s becoming more fun to enjoy recently. I haven’t watched The Blair Witch Project 🤦🏻‍♀️ but I do like hearing there’s a stutter rep!!

    1. Kal

      September 20, 2019 at 11:30 AM

      Yes, yes I am! I… the Blair Witch Project was a time of anger for 16 or 17 year old Kal, but for some reason I LOVE found footage in books? Like give me more, more more! I hope you love this one as much as I did – I am buying the author’s debut because I think she is now an insta-buy for me.

      1. dbsguidetothegalaxy

        September 20, 2019 at 6:23 PM

        I recommended it so now it’s just a waiting game to see if they’ll get it 😭

        1. Kal

          October 3, 2019 at 4:39 PM

          Crossing fingers for you!

          1. dbsguidetothegalaxy

            October 3, 2019 at 5:17 PM

            Update – I got it 😂😂😂

          2. Kal

            October 5, 2019 at 8:49 AM


  2. TheCaffeinatedReader

    September 19, 2019 at 5:47 AM

    Damn it Kal…I’m adding this one, but, we need to talk more about you almost throwing a flipflop at your TV lol cause that sounds a bit too hilarious to just overlook. Great review, as always!!!

    1. Kal

      September 20, 2019 at 11:35 AM

      LISTEN. That movie was a pile of wtf, okay?! I also watched it once it came out on VHS… and it was hella hyped. Given how much I fall victim to the hype and my own expectations, the lack of an ending pissed me off. The movie was iconic because people thought it was real. It created a new genre of horror in found footage. But it’s not great when you pull that away and WHY WAS HE STANDING IN THE CORNER?!

      But muahahaha. Read it!

  3. Tammy

    September 19, 2019 at 6:14 AM

    This sounds like my kind of book! Also, I was confused for a moment and I had to Google Elfin Forest. There is ANOTHER Elfin Forest in Morro Bay that I’ve been to and loved. I didn’t know there was one in San Diego! I will have to check it out next time I go😁

    1. Kal

      September 20, 2019 at 11:37 AM

      This book is so fun and spooky! Oh how cool, I want to visit the one in Morro Bay! The one here has changed a lot since I was in high school – there’s a new community out there and it’s far more developed… not as spooky anymore, unfortunately.

  4. Sarah

    September 19, 2019 at 11:46 AM

    The more I see about this, the more excited I am for it!

    1. Kal

      September 20, 2019 at 11:52 AM

      As you should, this one is a damn spooky treat! I hope you enjoy it if you do pick it up and thanks for reading!

  5. Kelly | Another Book in the Wall

    September 19, 2019 at 11:51 PM

    Wonderful review, Kal!! Okay, I am SO excited for this one! I never watched the Blair Witch project, but I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of it! I’m glad that this one worked well for you and that it had such great effortless diversity! <3

    1. Kal

      September 20, 2019 at 12:15 PM

      The Blair Witch Project honestly was iconic for what it did for horror, it created found footage as a genre! And when it hit theaters it was marketed as if it were real, so the people who saw it the first week or two were horrified because they thought it was real (not to mention the way it was filmed – production just fucked with the actors). Thanks for reading my review, Kelly!

  6. fictionnochaser

    September 20, 2019 at 5:29 AM

    I don’t think I can read this based on the scary level, but I am definitely recommending it to my horror-loving friends just because of your passion!

  7. tasya @ the literary huntress

    September 20, 2019 at 9:12 AM

    It’s almost midnight here and I made the mistake of watching that twitter video 😭🙈 It’s fantastic though and makes me even more excited to read this book! I love books that have elements of local legend too, they are just always fascinating and makes me wonder about how real the local legends in the real world are. After all, there must be a reason why the story keeps going on……..

    1. Kal

      September 20, 2019 at 12:21 PM

      I made the same mistake the other day… when I noticed there is sound. DON’T TURN ON THE SOUND! I have always been fascinated with local lore and urban legends, and wondering where the nugget of truth is. Because I am sure every story has a grain of truth that was ground down over time through oral history. It is so interesting to me! I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did, Tasya.

  8. Dany

    September 20, 2019 at 11:35 AM

    This book sounds so awesome and will definitely make a great Halloween read. I don’t read / engage with any form of Horror so I’m gonna pass on this. But this sounds so cool Kal!

    1. Kal

      September 20, 2019 at 12:22 PM

      Totally fair, but thanks for reading my review anyways! I think for the right readers this will be a perfect read – but it definitely will be too scary for some.

  9. confessionsofayareader

    September 20, 2019 at 1:47 PM

    Such a great review! You’ve made me want to read it even more than I already did. 🙂

    1. Kal

      October 3, 2019 at 4:39 PM

      Thank you so much, Kristi, and I hope you love it as much as I do! I was talking this one up to the horror guy at my indie over the weekend – I need people to talk to about this with!

  10. R A I N

    September 21, 2019 at 9:21 AM

    I AM GOING TO READ THE FUCK OUT OF THIS BOOK AND NO MISTAKE, I am telling you! YOUR REVIEW HAS CONVINCED ME COMPLETELY TO GO OUT AND BUY IT AS SOON AS IT RELEASES! Great review, Kal! And just in time for Halloween toooooo!!! 😍😍😍😍❤️❤️❤️❤️

    1. Kal

      October 3, 2019 at 4:41 PM

      HELL YES THIS IS THE BEST COMMENT TO GET! This one is so perfect for Halloween Season, and I love it so much! I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on it once you’ve had the chance to read it!

      1. R A I N

        October 4, 2019 at 8:50 AM

        And I CANNOT WAIT TO READ IT EITHERR! But just as soon as I finish reading the ones I have already added to my tbr because I CANNOT handle all those books looking at me like I committed a adultery or something by thinking some book else! 🤣🤣

        1. Kal

          October 5, 2019 at 8:58 AM

          Oh I commend you and your restraint! I have long since been able to not be judged by my TBR lol

  11. Jenna @ Bookmark Your Thoughts

    September 21, 2019 at 10:25 AM

    Wonderful review and i love the representation … but I need sleep at night … so I don’t know if I’ll be picking this one up ha-ha!

    1. Kal

      October 3, 2019 at 4:42 PM

      LOL fair enough on needing to sleep! I am tough to spook and while I didn’t find it *scary* per se, I think my yardstick isn’t normal lol.

  12. Papertea and Bookflowers

    September 21, 2019 at 10:49 AM

    Ahh Blair Witch Project was my absolute favourite story as a 6 year old! I’ll definitely put this book on my list!!
    And I love that the diversity is so natural in this, things are called out and the people actually stop doing it!

    1. Kal

      October 3, 2019 at 4:43 PM

      If you loved Blair Witch, you will likely adore this one! Although I am a little dubious of 6 year old you watching it, haha!

      The representation honestly elevated this book so much higher for me. All-around amazing imo. I hope you love it like I do!

      1. Papertea and Bookflowers

        October 16, 2019 at 8:32 AM

        I didn’t watch it until I was 8 ^^
        6-year-old​ me only listened to the story being told 😀 (My dad doesn’t really care for age restrictions … was a tough life, lol)

        I’ll definitely check it put now!

        1. Kal

          October 23, 2019 at 11:12 AM

          This brings me a weird amount of joy??? Like I watched scary movies but I had to be a sneak about it… my dad wouldn’t even let me watched Unsolved Mysteries

          1. Papertea and Bookflowers

            November 5, 2019 at 7:03 AM

            Aww that’s cute! 🥰
            (And kids are dark!! Like I remember coming down to get a drink or something and my parents were watching some kind of thriller and a man just dumped a corpse into the trash collecting cars (?) and I just asked if he was gonna get shreddered because some trash cars do that and the mom was horrified becasue she had hoped I was too small (4/5 years old) to understand that the man was dead 😂 … Everyone has some of those stories, rigt? Either their kid said some creepy stuff or something)

  13. northernplunder

    September 21, 2019 at 2:56 PM

    oh Kal! i love the sound of this 🙂 thank you for introducing me to a book that sounds like my perfect cuppa tea

    1. Kal

      October 3, 2019 at 4:45 PM

      Lauren it is SO DAMN GOOD! I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this, I think you will enjoy it!

  14. Brian (Brian's Book Blog)

    September 23, 2019 at 8:56 AM

    The cover on this is gorgeous! Sounds good as well.

    1. Kal

      October 4, 2019 at 8:25 PM

      I agree, the cover is mesmorizing & spooky once you realize there’s a girl figure in the trees, too! The UK cover is also really stunning: Thanks so much for reading, Brian!

  15. Destiny @ Howling Libraries

    September 23, 2019 at 11:51 PM

    Amazing review! I hit a bit of a wall last week where I had to shift my focus over to some other ARCs and library loans, but I can’t wait to dive back into this beauty 😍

    1. Kal

      October 4, 2019 at 8:32 PM

      Thank you so much, love! I hear you on the wall – this was the last ARC I had which I could focus on, so I have had to just switch things up for the time being with owned TBR. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts when you do get back to this one, though!

  16. Lisa @ waytoofantasy

    September 25, 2019 at 5:15 AM

    This sounds like it hit all the right notes for you! Glad you enjoyed it. I’m not often into spooky reads but this sounds like a good one, I’ll have to keep it in mind for when I’m in the mood. 🙂

    1. Kal

      October 4, 2019 at 8:43 PM

      I hope you get in the right mood for this and love it as much as I do, it surprised me so much and I can’t stop thinking about it!

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    September 30, 2019 at 11:02 AM

    […] Kal wrote a brilliant review of Rules for Vanishing and added it to my ‘want-to-read’ shelf. […]

  18. Kristine

    December 24, 2019 at 7:54 PM

    Hi Kal – I would love help with the ending of this book – You can reach out at if you would like to share some thoughts. I really enjoyed it but I am thinking it is up to the readers interpretation how you want to understand the ending, Correct? I just do not want to ruin the plot for anyone on your site.
    Happy Holiday Season!

    1. Kal

      December 31, 2019 at 8:06 PM

      Hi Kristine, glad to hear you also enjoyed it! I agree that it is left up to interpretation (which I just struggle with personally hahah)

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