I have to admit, I almost quit on this book. The first half just wasn't that engaging to me. I couldn't really make myself care about the rich-but-sad...moreI have to admit, I almost quit on this book. The first half just wasn't that engaging to me. I couldn't really make myself care about the rich-but-sad teenage protagonists, Carley Wells and Hunter Cay, and the plot felt a bit contrived. But I'm really glad I stuck with it, because it reached a tipping point about halfway in where the story really gained momentum.
As it turns out, no one in this book is as he or she seems, least of all Carley. From the title and flap copy, I expected a flip story with funny, quirky characters. In reality, the novel takes a deep and thoughtful look at complex characters, each struggling with private demons. It's also about the power of storytelling and about the lifestyle of the very wealthy. It's also about the power of our appearance and what people assume about us because of how we look. And how what we look like informs how we think of ourselves. Carley is a large girl (at one point it's revealed she's a size 16 at age 16) who doesn't win any prizes for beauty (or conversation, for that matter, since she only thinks of the right things to say in retrospect, in what she calls Aftermemory). In contrast, Hunter is a "golden boy" with runway looks, tailored designer clothes and an extraordinary way of making others feel cared for and special.
They form an unlikely friendship and have more in common in their interior lives than anyone every really suspects. Their friendship is beautiful and sad, and unique. They truly do belong to each other, as another character says at one point. The book is worth reading if just for a peek into their world.
In addition to Carley and Hunter, two tangential writer characters orbit the teenage pair, and their lives intersect in beautiful ways you couldn't guess they would.
It's a book that's definitely worth reading, and the last half moves really quickly and unexpectedly toward a tragic ending. To say more would give things away, so I'll just say I recommend reading this story. (less)
I absolutely devoured this book. The teenage protagonist, June Elbus, is a heartbreaking combination of childish innocence and fully formed wisdom. Fo...moreI absolutely devoured this book. The teenage protagonist, June Elbus, is a heartbreaking combination of childish innocence and fully formed wisdom. For me, reading her was to relive that painful transitional period when you're stuck halfway between being a carefree kid and an emotionally stable adult. June is unique, to say the least. She's a loner who prefers walking deep into the woods dressed in leather boots and a long dress pretending she's living in the Medieval Ages to spending the afternoon at the mall with other kids her age.
The story was a real page-turner for me, not because it's action-packed but because of how the story unspools like a ball of yarn unraveling. I needed to know what happened next to June and her sister Greta. The "Elbus girls" are in the middle of redefining their relationship in the shadow of their beloved uncle Finn's death from AIDS. June and her uncle Finn had an unusually close relationship, so his death is wounding for June. In fact, he was much more than an uncle to June. She was actually in love with him, a truth she cannot admit even to herself. In the shadow of their grief, everyone (June, Greta and their parents) must come to terms with their loss.
As they move ahead, it becomes clear that nothing is as it seemed. Nothing at all. For starters, it isn't until after Finn dies that June learns he had a partner of 10 years, Toby. In a fit of jealousy that June wouldn't imagine her mother capable of, she made her brother Finn June's godfather, with one caveat: He could only have the role if he swore never to expose June to Toby. As June finds out, it was all to teach Finn the lesson that he just couldn't have it all.
Thanks to Finn's final words to both June and Toby, they become unlikely secret friends who help each other heal, even as Toby grows increasingly ill. In the end, their friendship is a balm to the whole family.
This book left me sobbing at the end, but in a way that was equal parts sadness and hopefulness. I didn't feel manipulated the way I sometimes do when books have a sad ending. Instead, it was uplifting and cathartic, and real in a timeless way. It was a universal story that's emotionally true for everyone, and yet it was also very specific in that it made me think about and understand what it meant to have AIDS in New York City in the late 1980s. Seeing it through June's eyes really brought to life how difficult it was for everyone, how much fear there was, how many stereotypes and judgments.
It's a book very much worth reading, for many reasons, not the least of which is getting to know a character as complicated and lovely as June. (less)