*Note: I received this book from the author through Aimee’s blogiversary giveaways.*
A car accident robs the Loden Family of twins Van and Valencia shortly after they start college. Charmed, bright, and beautiful, they held their family together and elevated the Lodens to greatness. In their loss, a shadow is cast upon the family, particularly on the remaining child, who lacks the easy grace and popularity her older siblings took for granted.
As an adult, her life begins to turn from mediocre to amazing when she is saved by cool, artistic Adrian. The kind of happiness once reserved only for others is finally hers, until pieces of the past begin ruining what seems to be a perfect life.
I don’t remember ever learning the narrator’s name. I realized it while I was typing this out and trying to recollect her name. So I am just going to call her HER or SHE.
With so many books using the past/present – in –alternate chapters narrative these days, it suddenly started getting boring and like some new fad just to be all different and edgy, regardless of whether it is actually needed or not. This is one of the books where it works, and works really well.
This is the second book in a row (the first being Speak) I have read dealing with pressures faced by high school girls, such as being bullied, or worse, ignored . Here, it is further compounded by the fact that SHE is the youngest of the three siblings, with the older two, Van and Valencia being twins and well-liked among their peers. What’s worse, is HER parents ignore her (unintentionally or not), don’t celebrate her achievements or special occasions with the same gusto as the twins’. Gosh, it was all-round terrible to read how she was, well.. pretty much emotionally abandoned by her parents, especially her mom. What was heartbreaking to see is that SHE never really stops trying – After her mom gives up on trying to mould her like Valencia – by putting her into dance classes and goading her to show “feminine grace”, she takes it upon herself to “change” and start afresh every time a new school year starts. But she never catches a break. Her siblings’ death makes everything worse, as unlike before, she cannot even be an outside spectator to the “Happy Loden gang”. Valencia’s death hits her especially hard, as she was someone who SHE always aspired to be, something which felt as unattainable as reaching out to the stars.
So, yes, it always felt like she was stuck in a hopeless situation. When they were alive, she was torn between trying to shrug them off or enjoy the reflected glory. When they are dead, she is even worse off as she is seen as some specimen of curiosity, to be pitied or seen as a psych guinea pig by the school counselors and teachers from afar, but never befriended or shown consideration.
I don’t know what more to say without giving anything away further, but I am so glad I discovered this book. On the surface it is about HER moving on. Dig deeper and it is about HER trying to shake off the disappointments of her childhood, and trying to make herself happy by living (or rather play-acting) the ‘IT’ life as seen in glossy magazines and TV shows. One of my favorite moments, was Adrian gifting her gold necklace and helping her putting it on, while both of them coyly speak to each through their reflections as they stand in front of the mirror. The entire scene was a caustic nod to every happy-couple-in-TV-commercials ever. But as we find out in the end, she wasn’t the only one living vicariously.
If there is one criticism, it is probably that some of the additions to the mystery arc, such as the soothsayer and detective didn’t end being spoken about or explained again and some things felt more like loose ends than red herrings. Some of final passages were slightly ambiguous too. I read them twice and there are still a couple of things that I am still not too sure about.
The ending was bittersweet and I liked how SHE followed up on her conviction that sometimes you just instinctively know when something is broken and can’t be mended. I was also left wondering whether SHE loved Valencia for what she effortlessly projected to the outside world, and would SHE have loved her just the same if she didn’t meet those lofty standards.