How to Disappear Completely by Ali Standish

Hello, Ali Standish! Welcome back to Watch. Connect. Read. What have you been up to since the last time you visited on June 15, 2018?

Ali Standish: Has it really been a whole year?! That’s hard to believe. 

Yes! Time is going by so fast. It feels as though you were just here yesterday. 

Ali Standish: I’ve been busy working away on August Isle, which just came out in April, Bad Bella, which will hit shelves in December, and most recently, How to Disappear Completely! I also have another exciting project in the pipeline that I can’t wait to share more about soon. And of course, I’ve been connecting with educators and students at conferences, festivals, school visits, and more, which is always energizing and rewarding! Oh, and I have taken up jogging. 

Wow! Thanks for including How to Disappear Completely's cover below your update. It is incredibly calming. Please tell us about the scene Yaoyao Ma Van As captured on the cover. 

Ali Standish: Isn’t it just? The cover shows the Spinney, a special woodland glade that my main character, Emma, has grown up visiting with her grandmother. This space has always been sacred (and a little bit magical) for Emma, and it represents the innocence and wonder of childhood for her. But when Gram dies and Emma develops vitiligo, suddenly life becomes much less enchanted, and the Spinney becomes a place of mystery and uncertainty.   

I love the dazzling light and deep shadows of this composition, which to me really reflects the nature of the fraught—but hopeful—journey we all make from childhood to adolescence. My favorite part of the cover is the enormous sycamore tree, which captures just how beautiful it is to be two colors instead of one.

P.S.: Yaoyao is an incredible artist, and you should definitely visit her website to check out more of her work at

A local bookseller at Quail Ridge Books asks you to create a shelftalker for How to Disappear Completely. What would you include on the shelftalker?

Ali Standish: Emma has always looked to her grandmother for guidance and support, but when Gram dies and Emma is diagnosed with vitiligo, she must turn inward to find courage and strength. Ultimately, she realizes that her transformation is much more than skin deep. How to Disappear Completely is a novel about the inevitability of change, the magic of resilience, and difference: not only how we treat others who are different, but the ways our own differences can empower us, and even help us become more than we ever thought we could be. 

Please finish these sentence starters:

I hope How to Disappear Completely brings awareness to a very common condition that is often poorly understood or totally overlooked. Until my husband was diagnosed, we didn’t know what vitiligo was. (He has several family members who have it!) Then after his diagnosis, we encountered so much misinformation about vitiligo from well-meaning people, and even from his doctors. That’s the last thing you want at such a vulnerable time, but it’s the status quo right now. So this book required a lot of research, including input from folks affected by vitiligo and medical experts, to make sure that its depiction of the condition is accurate. I hope that the story will help normalize conditions like vitiligo, both for readers who have or are already familiar with it (but don’t see it represented enough), and for readers who might be learning about it for the very first time.

More broadly, this novel is about what happens to our identities when we encounter adversity, which we all do at some point during our coming of age journeys. So in that sense, Emma’s conflicts are universal. I hope her story will help readers reflect on how we can rise to meet adversity, the ways that hardships can ultimately make us kinder/stronger/better, and the importance of supporting others who are going through something difficult. I hope, too, that it helps them consider the role stories—both the ones we read and the ones we tell—have in helping us build the resilience we need to work through the challenges life throws our way.

School librarians should be found in Every. Single. School. (On Earth.) They are very often the heart of their school communities, and they are always invaluable resources for students and their fellow educators. In our current climate, it’s supremely important to connect children with narratives that serve as mirrors and windows, that make them question and hope and empathize. Access to a school librarian is crucial to making those connections that, in turn, help create a generation that can do better than the ones that came before it.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about intertextuality (isn’t it obvious??)! I have always loved books within books, but this is the first time I’ve really tried to incorporate a lot of intertextuality into one of my own stories. There are actually two different stories within How to Disappear Completely: the fairytale Emma finds herself co-writing with a mysterious pen pal; and The World at the End of the Tunnel, a fictional Narnia-esque fantasy novel that also happens to be Emma’s favorite book. Ultimately, Emma finds guidance in both of these narratives, and is able to use them to reclaim the magic she felt she lost when Gram died. Probably the most fun and also the most challenging part of writing this novel was finding the right balance for how to integrate the intertextuality into the main narrative. You want it to add just enough to be meaningful without becoming a distraction. I also sprinkled a few poetry references throughout, mostly to gratify my inner English-major and any poetry buffs out there!

Look for How to Disappear Completely on January 28, 2020.


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