Grief and loss are two of the hardest things to write about. It can seem so fake sometimes, when characters cry and give speeches about what someone’s...moreGrief and loss are two of the hardest things to write about. It can seem so fake sometimes, when characters cry and give speeches about what someone’s life meant to them. It might even feel staged, like the writer took the Kubler-Ross model as a law and had to hit on each one before the story could end. In those ways, it can be difficult to read about grief and loss, especially if you’ve been through something and nothing rings true.
But it’s even harder when it’s all so real, and that’s how it was with Come See About Me. The way Leah recounts the start of her relationship with Bastien, and the tidbits of their happiness laced throughout the story makes it hurt even more. C. K. Kelly Martin doesn’t just give us snapshots, she thrusts the photo album of Leah & Bastien into our hands. The reader cannot look away from the way they were not just together, but truly a couple. After a segue about Bastien and Leah’s experiments with cooking, you understand how in love with being together they truly were. The weight of Leah’s loss settles deep inside your chest for the duration of the book. His memory lingers with her, right down to the book she carries, but doesn’t always read. You’re in for the long haul.
When you get to the end, the weight isn’t completely gone, but it’s lighter. You know there’s hope for Leah, and it’s hard not to be proud of how far she’s come, and how far she’ll go. She never really forgets Bastien – because when someone is that much a part of your life, you don’t ever forget them – and that makes the ending all the more satisfying.
At the beginning of the story, Leah is staying at the residence of her dead ex-boyfriend’s kind aunt, Abigail. Abigail suffered a loss of her own, and -- thankfully, for Leah, for the reader, too – understands that you can’t just roll out of bed with a happy look on your face and pretend it’s going to be all right. Also thankfully for Leah, Abigail is rarely at the house, which means she has room to breathe, to cope and grieve on her own terms. It’s been a bit since Bastien’s death, and subsequently, Leah has let contact with reality fizzle out. Her job’s gone, her friends have been put on hold, and no matter how hard her parents try, she won’t let them know what’s really going on. Because, according to Leah,
“Why was it okay for me to curl up in a ball with a physical sickness but not with a broken heart?”
Make it through the first few chapters, in which Leah is lost inside her head, and on the other side, you’ll see the “real” start of the story. That’s not to ignore her grief, but rather that even Leah knew, deep inside, when it was time to try-to-try again. True to C. K. Kelly Martin’s spot-on ability to pen emotions, Leah’s depression doesn’t fade the instant there’s a glimmer of hope. In fact, it’s more like the glimmers might be illusions, and Leah has a hard time deciding what’s real, and what’s not. She paces herself, makes small goals for herself. But then walks in the Irish man, Liam.
I don’t say that in the way that it could come off. Liam doesn’t walk in, sweep Leah off her feet, and cure her of her grief. He doesn’t swoop in after a chance meeting in a bar, make her fall in love with his accent, and carry her back to Ireland to be happy for eternity. No, it starts off slow, and as they gain momentum, the heat between them burns more urgently with every page. The desire and need for a connection, for that specific connection, is crystal clear – and achingly realistic, right down to Leah’s shock at the physical pain she feels from their first time together. Oh, how I love C. K. Kelly Martin for not shying away from the sexual needs someone feels even after losing their love. In a way, that’s what took things to the next level for me, as I read. Because Leah could go on forever about being sad, and she could talk to Bastien in her sleep, but that sexual urgency that still lingered was something that served as an even greater reminder that she didn’t just lose a boyfriend, she lost her lover.
Leah wobbles around on shaky ground for a while, and because you’ve grown to care so much about her getting better, you root for her. You root for her to get better, to reconnect with society, with herself, and with her own family and friends. By the end, you know in your heart that she’s come a long way. Even the rest of the supporting cast, from the charming 15-year-old Kevin, to the friendly women in the house next door, and Leah’s college friends, show up to gently push Leah in the right direction. Yunhee is perhaps the most persistent, telling Leah that everyone wants her to be okay more than once. Leah doesn’t always resist, but she grows weary of it:
“I know that. But I know it from the other side. The pressure that people heap on you when they need you to be all right because they don’t know how to handle it if you’re not.”
The beauty of a character like Leah is that, if you have someone like C. K. Kelly Martin writing you, you’re going to spring to life from the pages. See, it’s not all about big moments in time interspersed with the occasional conversation or event. We get to know Leah through everything she does – her walks through town, curling up to fade away in front of the television, avoiding her friends, hanging out with her friends, and even what she does while she’s working. We learn what she likes and dislikes organically, like her distaste for shrimp, and it never feels staged or hokey. These bits of reality, woven together with Martin’s sincerity and artfulness, form someone you really, truly care about. The caring is what stays with you, long after you’re done.
I don’t cry when I read books. I think the only time I came close was when Dobby died in Harry Potter, and that lasted for moments. But there were moments in Come See About Me that I couldn’t hold it back. Leah’s longing for Bastien – in one scene, she narrates “I want to bite my hand in frustration and pace the streets looking for him, because after all these months, I still don’t understand how he can be gone” – is so raw, full of heartache, and gutting that I couldn’t help myself. It happened again and again, right up until the ending.
If you’ve ever suffered the loss of someone you were that kind of close with, be careful with Come See About Me. You might see yourself in Leah’s reaction. Or, if someone close to you has suffered that loss, you might see them. If that’s the case, I hope you understand. It’s not always like that, but it can be.
If you’ve never read a novel by C. K. Kelly Martin, I want you to pick this one up. I'd like to thank the author again for giving me a copy to review.(less)
Sometimes a book hits the target after a few misses. When you pick up Getting Over Garrett Delaney (because, I will tell you now, you really should),...moreSometimes a book hits the target after a few misses. When you pick up Getting Over Garrett Delaney (because, I will tell you now, you really should), don't pick it up because you want a book full of beautiful, wandering prose. Don't pick it up because you want your mind blown open by some new world. Pick it up because you want to think a little bit about your own life, and maybe even how your relationships and friendships could be holding you back. Pick it up because the lessons inside of it are subtle and not-subtle, strong and weak. Finally, pick it up because you really want to root for someone.
We've all been there, or we've seen our friends there: hopelessly in love with our best friend. We may not take it to the extreme length that Sadie has taken it, but rest assured, it happens. Our lives become centered around those people because we want them to notice, we need them to notice, and we won't stop until we're noticed. For some reason, we've forgotten that the rest of the world has interesting people in it, and before you know it, we're sitting in a ballpark in ninety-degree weather bored out of our skulls. No, that didn't happen in the book -- Garrett would have probably run away before being dragged to baseball game.
Needless to say, I loved this book. Sadie is a wonderful narrator and main character, and the voice in this is engaging and bright. She's teenage girl, smart, lovesick, angry, and calm. You might not light her at first, because there was shades of pretentious hipster brat in there. When I started reading this, I was also turned off a little by the strong girl-hate from Sadie to Garrett's girlfriends -- but in reality, that jealousy was misdirected, and even Sadie knew it. That's what soothe it over. Sadie figures out that her feelings are misguided!
We didn't get such a strong glimpse of how much of a jerk Garrett was until he came back. Part of me thinks that's good -- the illusion of him being Best Guy Ever faded while he was gone, allowing Sadie to see him for how he really was. The other part makes me wish we knew, so we could root for her even harder. We know the type for sure, even while he's gone -- some guy with iconic hair who thinks that old dead guys are the best writers the world had to offer, who thinks "Criterion collection or bust," and who would turn his nose up at, well, that baseball game. We hate Garrett. We all know a Garrett. Some of us might have even dated a Garrett.
The friends that Sadie makes include a friend she's had all along, Kayla, whose presence in her life faded once Garrett took the main stage. I love that they were willing to be straightforward with her, all while being supportive. LuAnn was especially bright -- although I had a difficult time not imagining her as LuAnn from King of the Hill. In the end, it's the friendships that she's formed with these characters that really gets her through it all.
I do wish that a part of this wasn't about looking for other guys, because there's so much else that Sadie could be figuring out. I understand that's part of the process she's created for herself, but it's possible to grow and get over someone without moving on to the next person -- although I know people would argue that's actually one of the steps. But given how young Sadie is, did it have to be?
The way that McDonald opens some of the chapters, with Sadie's bullet points on how to actually get over him, are universally helpful. Even if you're in your late twenties and have all the relationship experience in the world, if you take a look at some of the things that Sadie says, I'd wager something will hit home. That's why this book hit such a high note with me: it's a young adult book for sure, but that doesn't mean the appeal ends there.(less)
This book did a number on me. So it's about Connor and it's about Izzy and it's about this THING between the two of them. It's about mutual destructio...moreThis book did a number on me. So it's about Connor and it's about Izzy and it's about this THING between the two of them. It's about mutual destruction, budding love, caring, misunderstandings, understanding, mental illness, worry, and hope.
And when you read a book that is, essentially YourLife.txt, it becomes hard to objectively review it. There are a number of passages in this book that are put so perfectly, that hit so close, so hard, that I had to put the book in my freezer for a while.
Seeing yourself in the pages of a book, especially one about two teenagers, can be painful.
It's hard to find a YA book incorporating mental illness that doesn't demonize it. Crazy does not romanticize it, but it doesn't demonize it, either. If you're familiar with books about mental illness (specifically bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, etc), you know that most of what's out there paints each person who manages it in the worst lights manageable. While Izzy's condition blows up and people will likely have a hard time understanding why she does things, it's real. It's important to remember that it's just one of the ways that things can go, though. It's not as though you're seeing it from the outside, either. These are Izzy's thoughts, and sometimes you need something between you. That's where Connor comes in.
The interesting part, and what made this stand out so far is that there is a lot to fault Connor for in the book as well. He knows things are spiraling out of control, and he doesn't understand it. He tries to understand it -- which is amazing, bless this fictional boy -- but he doesn't establish boundaries, and while he's observational, and he misses what's really going on. His addiction to Izzy blinds him from seeing what could potentially hurt him, and hurt her. The fact that there are two not-so-innocent parties in the book manipulating one another is a breath of the freshest air.
There are some unfortunate stereotypes that are used in the book -- that Izzy is an artist is one. Oh, there's truth behind that stereotype, but it doesn't make it any less disappointing to see it when it's used. However, like with everything she does, Amy Reed handles the subject with strength. I'm starting to think there's no subject the author can't touch without turning it into gold.
I will hand Crazy to my friends, and to my loved ones -- and one day, to someone in specific, and have them read it. It's one that shouldn't be missed.(less)
**spoiler alert** About 1/4 of the way through this, I was becoming frustrated. It felt like there was so much possibility and promise that was remain...more**spoiler alert** About 1/4 of the way through this, I was becoming frustrated. It felt like there was so much possibility and promise that was remaining untapped. I would find segments of this brilliant, and then I would become so overwhelmingly annoyed at Katie, or something in the narrative, that I'd nearly put it down.
...but then there was the one line that sucked me into the story completely. "Only on the Internet can you be lonely and popular." I understood it.
When you've finished the book, and you're staring at the last words on the last page, thinking, "No, wait, that can't be it, can it?" remember that, and remember how starving and desperate for attention Katie is. It all makes sense, and it makes everything in this book mean so much more.
She's playing to an audience, and she knows it, and she knows her readers know it, too. When she reveals, early on, that she changed some of the details to protect herself, you have to stop and think about what she is telling us. By the end, there's so much unraveling. She wanted to give her blog readers a happy ending for her, because she knew, for some reason, she wouldn't have one of her own.
It's easy to think that she's a terrible person, and what a crappy narrator and "ew, she has sex with all these men," but look beyond what's immediately apparent. It'll make the reading experience even better. (less)
**spoiler alert** This book was, of course, predictable at times, but if you'd paid attention to what was happening since the beginning of the book, i...more**spoiler alert** This book was, of course, predictable at times, but if you'd paid attention to what was happening since the beginning of the book, it shouldn't have come as a surprise that it was predictable. The very fact that the main character's name is Grace should send warning bells in your head.
But that doesn't mean that this wasn't a spectacular read. Whether or not I liked Grace, she was extremely easy to relate to. Self-conscious girl swept up in the arms of an older man remains as self-conscious as humanly possible, and it creates roadblocks on her seeing the truth behind Michael's actions and behavior.
I would have liked to see her affinity for nature brought out a little bit more during the middle of the book. We get an excellent taste for it at the beginning and end, but in the middle, it's almost as though we forget that portion of who she is, save for when she mentions the African Violet.
More about Liv would have been nice, too. Her booking it after the car accident came as a surprise, even though her character had been deteriorating throughout. I don't think we got to know nearly enough about her family or the alcoholism, and I think that could have brought forward some more interesting interactions between Grace and Liv.
**spoiler alert** What I liked the most about this book was how all Alex's relationships were explored so much more deeply than other, similar titles....more**spoiler alert** What I liked the most about this book was how all Alex's relationships were explored so much more deeply than other, similar titles. That's what really makes this stand out from the others, I think. The need in Alex to find a place within all of her friends, within her family, and within the memory of her mother is understandable. You don't just have a lump of characters and see how they relate to her, you see how they don't relate to her. That makes her relationship with Cole all the more powerful.
The only character I didn't feel like we got to know well enough was Cole. Obviously even Alex didn't get to understand Cole enough until the end, which is fitting. But in the beginning of their relationship, all those conversations they have where they "talk about everything," we should have seen more of that. We should have seen more of the beginning, more of the build-up, more of Cole in general. The story wasn't necessarily about him, I get that, but it would have helped.
We did see too much of the "joking" between Bethany and Zack and Alex, though. After the first ten chapters, I was mildly irritated with how Zack didn't seem to have much of a personality, outside of being a walking "pervy punchline." It took until much further in the book to really get to know him, and I feel like that was too bad. I'd like to have seen more about Bethany's environmentalist nature, too.
As for the relationship itself, if you see where Alex feels like she doesn't belong, it's so much more clear why everything happens with Cole. You may think, "she's far too forgiving,” particularly if you’ve never been there. You might not understand, but if you pay attention, the answers are very much all there. (less)