Like Nic Sheff’s recent Tweak, Cylin Busby and John Busby’s young adult memoir The Year We Disappeared (Bloomsbury, Aug.) is getting the kind of pre-pub buzz that shows it could have wider appeal. In it, father and daughter (then age nine) describe in alternating chapters the chain of events that engulfed John Busby, then a police officer on a small-town police force in Falmouth, Mass., on Cape Cod, when he was shot in the face, and he and his family were forced into hiding. The book has revived interest in the case, for which no arrests were ever made and little police effort was put into finding the person who pulled the trigger. The crime has surfaced over the years in local newspapers like the Cape Cod Times, and is now the subject of a CBS News 48 Hours investigation.
Despite her background in children’s book publishing, Cylin—who has worked in editorial at Knopf Books for Young Readers, HarperCollins and Aladdin, and has written several books for young readers—originally saw The Year We Disappeared as an adult title. Then she asked her friend, Melanie Cecka, publishing director of Bloomsbury Children’s Books, with whom she had shared a cubicle at Random House, to weigh in. “The writing was frank and the details unsparing—they definitely hadn’t written it with a young reader in mind,” Cecka says. “But there was something equally resilient and wonderful about having this very ‘normal’ child and father open a window into a world of violence that tends to be reserved for adult audiences—and glamorized.” In the end both Cecka and Bloomsbury’s then-publisher, Victoria Wells Arms, felt the book conveys a powerful message about violence and family, one that would resonate with young people.
John and Cylin Busby.
It’s a message that could also appeal to adults, like readers of another true-crime saga set on the Cape, Maria Flook’s 2003 bestseller Invisible Eden, about the murder of Christa Worthington. As a result of interest in the book, advance orders have been so strong that Bloomsbury has upped its in-print total to 32,500, after going back to press for another 25,000 copies before publication. The book will be on front-of-store table displays at Barnes & Noble, and the Busbys will do a national satellite radio tour to 20 markets.
The Year We Disappeared has already built a national audience among booksellers. “It’s truly a page-turner,” says Leslie Hawkins, owner of Spellbound Children’s Bookshop in Asheville, N.C. “This is definitely something that will have appeal to people who have no knowledge of the area or of the folks involved.” Similarly, Tish Gayle at The Blue Marble in Ft. Thomas, Ky., calls it “gripping and unforgettable,” adding, “The story is an important one to tell and for people to read, as it demonstrates how one violent act can impact so many.”
Because the Busbys name names of people who still live in the area—although Cylin prefers to use a pseudonym for the man believed to be behind the attack on her father, which tore off the bottom part of his face—it has stirred up some anxiety in the community. And with 48 Hours currently doing background interviews, the Busbys and their version of the crime could set even more members of the community on edge.
“It makes me as a bookseller uncomfortable,” says Booksmith manager Leslie Baker, referring to the coverup of Busby’s attack. In a Children's BookshelfGalley Talk earlier this summer, Carol Chittenden, owner of Eight Cousins Children’s Books in Falmouth, Mass., and children’s buyer at BookStream, also expressed some concern. “We’re working closely and carefully with Bloomsbury to make the book everything it can be for readers and for our community,” she wrote. “Bookstore staff is a little nervous about the outcome, but I feel we can do nothing less.”
Michelle Lemay, co-owner of Inkwell Bookstore in Falmouth, who was Cylin’s age at the time of the shooting, noted that most locals want to hear what the Busbys have to say. She’s been getting pre-orders from people who have moved away from the area, and expects that the book will sell well.