“You mean I could have lost everything I ever cared about? Bad news, that’s already happened. Or do you mean worse like I could have died? Because that would actually have been better. I should have died with them. I wish I had died with them.”
This book is absolutely gut-wrenching. It has one of the best portrayals of a teenager in a book I've ever come across. There's just no getting around the fact that it was damned depressing, kind of in a "well, my day WAS a ray of sunshine until I read this book and now I want to dive into a pint of Rocky Road ice cream" and not so much in a ugly-sobbing-into-a-pillow (cough* Forbidden *) kind of sadness. On a Goldilocks scale, this would probably be Baby Bear, in the term that it's just right.
And going with the theme, of course Baby Bear would die.
This book has a fantastically realistic portrayal of grief and a main character who is absolutely believable as a teenager. She is not perfect, she's kind of a brat at times, but she's so human and I relate to her so well that I felt that she was absolutely perfectly-written. I absolutely loved her complex relationship with her mother and sister. More so because I, like her, have a sister of my own.
Feel the sisterly love.
Her sister is 10 years younger, like mine is. She hated her sister when she was born, as I did.
I didn’t think ten years was that much difference, really. I thought Marin would look up to me and I could teach her all kinds of things and be like her hero or something. But what I hadn’t banked on was that there would be a lot of years where she would be a baby. The baby. The center of everything.
I felt that resentment. For years and years, I hated and resented my sister for beingn the baby. More than anything, I regret being such a stupid little shit to my sister when she was growing up. In that way, I knew perfectly what the main character was going through.
More than anything, I felt the portrayal of adults in this book was absolutely brilliant. Adults are people, too. They fuck up. They make mistakes. They lie. They try. They're not perfect. I should know, I'm one. Parents aren't perfect. Neither are friends. In the end, all you can do, really, is try.
And life sucks. Things aren't a fairy tale. Sometimes---oftentimes, things don't turn out as planned. All you can do it adjust as best you can. The main character in this book, while not perfect, tries. She is resilient. I can't ask for more from a character.
And to top it off, there's almost no romance at all. Because there's such a thing as priority, y'all. When your life is in pieces, the last thing you want to think about it luuuuuuuuuurve.
Really, this book is so perfect.
I realized that the worst part of someone you love dying suddenly isn’t the saying good-bye part. It’s the part where you wonder if they knew how much you loved them.
17-year old Jersey had a pretty decent life. Good friends, a nice family. A mom, a stepfather, Ronnie, a baby half-sister Marin. Sure, Jersey's a brat sometimes, but aren't all teenagers? It was a normal life, with a normal nightly argument over doing the chores.
“Don’t forget the laundry,” Mom said on her way out.
“I know,” I singsonged back sarcastically, rolling my eyes.
But what Jersey didn't know is that it would be the last time she saw her mother and sister. This is the Midwest, and there's a tornado on the way.
Being a tough Midwesterner, Jersey doesn't really think about the tornado...it's practically an annual tradition. She's just chilling in the storm shelter for shits and giggles until the tornado hits. And it is serious fucking business. Even in terms of tornadoes, it's a bad one.
I was confused, and my arms, legs, back, and head stung. I coiled into myself, gripping my head and crying and crying, half-sobbing, half-shrieking. I don’t know how long I stayed that way before I realized it was over.
The aftermath is bad. People dead. The town razed to the ground. It gets worse, because as the days go by, it becomes evident that Marin and her mother aren't coming back. Jersey is as good as an orphan.
Her stepfather is a broken man, unable to deal with his grief, unable to deal with a young woman who looks too much like his wife.
“Jersey, I’m sorry,” he said, and that was pretty much all he needed to say.
“I can’t do it. I can’t raise you alone. I never meant to...”
Jersey has no choice but to live with her grandparents...and the father she never knew. The one who abandoned her.
It's not what she expected. These are far from the cuddly, kind grandparents who would hug you and spoil you and love you. These people are harsh. Cold. Unflinching and unloving, without an ounce of sympathy.
“It’s a shame what happened to your mom,” Grandmother Billie said between bites. “But there’s nothing to be done about it. Terrible things happen every day. To everybody, not just you.”
Her half-sisters (whom she didn't even know exist!) are terrors. Their entire extended family can best be described as white trash, complete with the broken-down home. Her biological dad is a drunk. Her stepmother is no better.
Standing in the doorway, swaying crookedly, balanced on a pair of beat-up cowboy boots, was my father, Clay Cameron.
“...always said you wanted the bitch dead,” she said, and I heard them both giggle.
It is a hell of a life, and Jersey can hardly bear to live.
I pulled the blanket over my head and bawled into the dirty couch, the sobs reaching so far down into me, they came out dry.
But it's not like she has much of a choice. She's almost as good as an orphan. Will Jersey to go down with her grief?, or will she be a survivor?
Nobody was coming to rescue me. Nobody was going to keep me safe. It was all up to me now.
Jersey: I found Jersey to be an amazing character, one of the most sympathetic and believable heroines I've ever come across. She's not perfect. She's a snot to her mom, she ignores her little sister because Marin was annoying, and she feels that regret like nothing else.
What I wouldn’t have given to listen to Marin’s chatter, to have her stand in front of my face begging me to dance with her. Life with Marin was never quiet. Life without her seemed so still it was maddening.
I am a quiet person. I have always been. I can sit quietly for hours. Having a noisy baby sister in the house was all sorts of maddening, and I understood perfectly the way it pissed Jersey off.
And I understood perfectly how much she missed that noise now that her sister is gone. I would not trade my sister for all the silence in the world.
Jersey may be a brat, but she's not a bitch. She knows when to tune it down. She knows how to behave. She can keep her bratty side under control, especially in the aftermath of her mother and sister's death. This book perfectly portrays her stages of grief, as she goes from denial to sorrow to anger, to madness.
I was feeling a too-familiar anger welling up inside me. I’d never been an angry kind of person, and it didn’t make sense why it kept coming back. I was sad, not angry. I was scared and lonely, but I didn’t understand why I felt so mad. Being mad all the time did sort of make me feel like I was losing it.
It's the kind of grief that's internalized. An observer wouldn't see it, but we do. We feel her sorrow and her defense so keenly.
She didn’t know how broken I was on the inside, that I couldn’t have let her in even if I’d wanted to, because the part of me that had once loved was now gone.
Jersey's personality skated that fine line between maturity and teenaged rebellion, and I loved her for it.
The Adults: There are so few YA books that portray adults well. This is one of them.
“I don’t hate you,” he said. “But I can’t take care of you. Every time I look at you, I see her. Every time I hear you talk, I think about how I let everyone down. I think about how I couldn’t save any of you. Not one.”
I loved the adults in this book. They are human, they are weak. They succumb to sorrow, to a coma-like state of grief. They make poor decisions that they regret. They're not perfect. They don't become perfect.
For example, the quote above is from Ronnie, Jersey's stepfather. He is suffering from the death of his wife and daughter. He can't bring himself to take care of Jersey, no matter how much she begs. He hates himself for his weakness, but he just can't do it. Ronnie doesn't have the strength. He doesn't have the willpower. He feels terrible for it, he hates himself, but there's just no way he can take care of a young woman in his state, and he knows it.
Other adults in the book are imperfect as well, from the aged grandparents, who are more like the scary old people shaking sticks at you on the corner than anything that could be remotely warm and loving.
I was reminded of Mom’s theory that Billie and Harold were unhappy people because of the pain life had dealt them. I wondered what terrible things had happened in their lives, and if Mom was right, and they’d simply shut down to shut out the hurt.
Friends' parents aren't loving and awesome. They're people who need to take care of their own family first.
Nobody is perfect. Parents lie. Friends dodge uncomfortable questions. We avoid seeing the truth as long as we can.
This book is damned realistic, and damned depressing.
And I'll be damned if I didn't love it.