Before I continue with my review of this book, I want to note that I am someone who is generally very hard to please when it comes to reading Young Adult contemporary literature. In the last 6 months, I have rarely came across one that I absolutely enjoyed due to YA tropes and lack of realism. However, with this book, I was definitely surprised by at its complexity and the realness of the characters and their environment. This book is definitely sold primarily as a love triangle romance based on the synopsis but in reality, this book is so much more than that.
This book follows a teenage girl named Lennie who is dealing with the sudden death of her older sister Bailey, someone she was very close to and followed for guidance. This book was realistic in that while Lennie is coming to terms with the loss of sister, she is also experiencing things that most other teenage girls go though. Her budding sexuality is another important highlight of the plot as through this all, she begins to find herself drawn to two boys for very different reason. One is Toby, Bailey’s boyfriend, who shares the same sense of grief with Lennie. When they are together, they feel as if they can bring Bailey back somehow and it is their only way of keeping her alive. The other is Joe, who is a new student at Lennie’s school. And with him, she feels happy again as he makes he laugh and make her forget about her sister’s passing. With either of them, Lennie feels guilty towards Bailey’s death as being with the sister’s boyfriend is taboo while with Joe she feels she is moving on too quickly through her mourning period.
But this book not only discusses romantic relationships, it also touches on friendships and family. In Lennie’s grief, she begins to push her best friend, Sarah, away, as well as her grandmother and uncle, Big. Lennie and Bailey never knew their mother as she had abandoned them when they were very young and were then raised by Gram and Big. I liked how even though there were no parents in this book, there were still very strong parental figures present. The typical YA trope for parents being physically present but lacking supervision over or being obnoxiously overbearing towards the main character was missing from this book, which I found to be reassuring and refreshing. Lennie is unable to open up to anyone, but in rare moments when she did, Gram and Big were both there to offer her support and guidance and didn’t push her when she didn’t feel like talking.
This book illustrates how each person’s grieving process is individual and personal and while there are many moments where Lennie makes poor decisions, Jandy Nelson gives her motive and reasons as to why she does the things she does. Unlike many other YA books I have read, Lennie’s emotions are realistic and she isn’t just doing stupid things for the sake of doing stupid things. Even if you doubt her motives or her decisions, you are still able to feel her sorrow and empathize with her as a character. Nelson’s development of the characters and their little quirks and habits allow them to be real in a sense that they were people before this event happened. As a whole, this allowed complex relationships to be made and events to occur that had depth and felt three-dimensional. Nelson also included modern-day pop culture references that allowed the reader to connect their world to our own, presenting these characters and who could exist in the real world. While there was a lot going on in this book, I never felt as if the story line was cluttered or all over the place. The pacing was just right and all the elements worked together to create a cohesive and understandable story line.
I really enjoyed how Jandy Nelson used different mediums of art as forms of expression for different characters. Gram paints and gardens, Joe plays who knows how many instruments, and Lennie plays clarinet, dances to music, and writes. An added visual element to this book was in the inclusion of Lennie’s notes and poems of memories she has of her and Bailey, which are scattered throughout the book. While this book is told in first person perspective from Lennie’s point of view, this addition added a sense of raw emotion that allowed the story to be more genuine and realistic.
Now, the reason I picked this book up is because I (clearly) have two copies of this book. I picked up the one with the raindrops for $1 at a book sale and then come across the one with the leaves for $1 at a bookstore because it was just so beautiful I couldn’t pass it up. In terms of a design that provides a better representation of the book’s atmospheres, I would have to go with the one with the leaves. The idea of trees and growing are very prominent within this book, not to mention they live right near a forest and creek, where Lennie visits very often. Gram makes connections between man and tree many times and just from a stylistic viewpoint, I find the tree design to be more elegant and unique.
I obviously enjoyed this book greatly and would highly recommend it to teens and adults alike. The way that it was written felt as if the author did not necessarily cater to one specific age range, which I greatly appreciate. I’m very glad that I gave this book a chance and am now looking forward to picking up more of Jandy Nelson’s works.