Faithful readers, Laura Wiess is not content to show you sadness and discontent amongst the teen set. No. She wants to grab you by the throat, then use her other hand to rip your heart out.
So you might want to grab a box of tissues before you read this one.
Rowan is a sixteen-year-old high school sophomore determined to skip school one day with her bestie Nadia, who has arranged for the girls to meet up with two hot upper classmen. But things don’t go as planned, largely because Rowan’s father is a police officer, and his brethren are EVERY. WHERE. Oh, it works out swell for Nadia, who heads off with the two boys. Rowan gets a police escort home.
Her father quickly joins her there to harangue her on her choices. They are interrupted by a police call that sends her dad to an overpass, where a “mentally unstable” individual holding an infant stands, apparently about to commit suicide. A passerby, a high schooler named Eli who’s out taking his dog to the vet, attempts to talk the man down. When Rowan’s father races off to join them, a ripple effect of sorts occurs, stemming from Rowan’s decision to skip school.
Later in the book, Eli explains his theory of the ripple effect to Rowan, and it’s one of the themes of the novel. One seemingly insignificant thing can lead to something catastrophic, only you won’t know it until it’s too late.
Rowan’s father goes to do his job, but the ensuing events build to one tragedy after another, leaving Rowan, her mother, and her family reeling.
Those ripples extend beyond Rowan’s family, though. Her friends are affected as well. Or perhaps not as affected as Rowan thinks they should be. Nadia, for instance, seems somewhat put out by the inconveniences of Rowan’s new reality. While this seems deplorable and abhorrent behavior, it rings completely true. She’s a high school girl, and she doesn’t want to – nor does she know how to – adapt to Rowan’s world.
Fortunately, there is Eli. He knows all too well the loss Rowan feels, and he offers her the support she needs. Rowan, though, doesn’t realize she needs support. She thinks everyone else does, and she is disgusted by other people’s reactions and responses to what’s happening in her family.
Some of those reactions are shared on the Internet, where everyone seems to be an expert in what Rowan’s father should have done. People pass horrific, spiteful, evil judgments, and they affect more than just Rowan’s dad. Her classmates, too, think they know better, and they have no compunction about sharing those thoughts with her. Those face-to-face confrontations, though, are warm and fuzzy compared to what’s said in the anonymity of the Internet. Wiess clearly condemns this mindset, and by the time you’re finished with the book, you will, too. If nothing else, you will think before you post an online comment.
[As an aside: I recently published a review that was not terribly complimentary. The author got in touch with me with a couple of questions she had regarding my review. We exchanged emails, and I came away feeling horrible for not loving her book. I re-read the review and wondered if I could 0r should edit the review, but I wound up keeping it intact. I didn’t like the book, and my opinions are true and my own, but I didn’t stop to think about how they would affect someone who put considerable time and care into writing her book, largely because she wasn’t “real” to me until that email exchange.]
Wiess examines other elements here, too. You can grieve the loss of someone who is still alive because who he is now is not who you know him to be. How do we, as family members and as a society, treat depression? How should we? What is the “right” thing to do? What support do the depressed individual’s family members need?
Then there is physical loss, specifically suicide. What right do we have to judge someone’s choice in taking his life? How do we treat the victims – the surviving family members? What can – what should – we do for them?
This isn’t to say that Wiess writes a pedantic, scolding novel. Yes, it makes you think, but it also warms your little heart. Rowan is complex. She’s loyal, she’s feisty, she’s irascible, she’s opinionated, she’s hot-tempered, she’s sweet, she’s supportive, she’s confused, and she’s world weary. She wants love. She wants particular love from particular people. She wants her friends to instinctively know how to respond to what she’s going through. She wants them to choose her. She wants people – her family, her friends – to choose her.
Who amongst us doesn’t? Especially if you’re a teenager. You don’t just want to be chosen, you need it. You NEED people to choose you.
I do have one issue with the book, and to dissect it requires a minor bit of spoiler-telling, so if you don’t want to know a little bit about one of the plot points, finish the review with these words: read the book. It’s good.
So if you’re still here, then you don’t mind a little spoiling.
It bothered me that Rowan’s father committed suicide. Not because it was sad or heartbreaking – it certainly was – but because it seemed remarkably, pointedly out of character. He discusses suicide with Rowan and seems to find it unnecessarily cruel. That he would do that to his own family seems unconscionable. He knew how his depression affected them, but for him to go to this extreme and kill himself is almost shockingly extreme. Perhaps that’s the point? Perhaps Wiess wants us to understand that his depression was so severe that he had this cataclysmic break with himself, taking him to the point where needing to leave this world overrode his intellectually knowing that what he was going to do would devastate, if not destroy, his family.
If that’s the point she’s trying to make, I still don’t like it. Rowan’s father was a strong man of strong principles. He feared for his daughter as she entered her waning high school years. He knew she needed him to watch out for her. Yet this man, whose life had been selfless and devoted, committed the most cruelly selfish act he could. It didn’t fit. And the more I’ve thought about the book, the more I’ve wondered what this book could have been if Rowan’s father had stayed and battled his depression. If he’d stayed and been true to himself.
But that’s not the book Laura Wiess wrote, and I respect her decisions. I may not like them, but I respect them.