Welcome to my second Compare and Contrast, in which I pick two books with similar elements or themes and compare them.
Today I'm looking at two books that take place in the aftermath of the death of the protagonist's sibling. This is a familiar theme in YA, and I have a Goodreads shelf devoted to loss of a sibling books. If you can think of any that I missed, please let me know in comments!
by Gae Polisner
To be published on March 25, 2014
by Algonquin Books
Source: giveaway at ALA.
Synopsis from Goodreads: Summer has begun, the beach beckons and Francesca Schnell is going nowhere. Four years ago, Francesca's little brother, Simon, drowned, and Francesca is the one who should have been watching. Now Francesca is about to turn sixteen, but guilt keeps her stuck in the past. Meanwhile, her best friend, Lisette, is moving on most recently with the boy Francesca wants but can t have. At loose ends, Francesca trails her father, who may be having an affair, to the local country club. There she meets four-year-old Frankie Sky, a little boy who bears an almost eerie resemblance to Simon, and Francesca begins to wonder if it is possible Frankie could be his reincarnation. Knowing Frankie leads Francesca to places she thought she'd never dare to go and it begins to seem possible to forgive herself, grow up, and even fall in love, whether or not she solves the riddle of Frankie Sky.My take: I really enjoyed The Pull of Gravity by this author, and was very excited to read The Summer of Letting Go. Yes, this is a "grief book," but also a beautiful coming-of-age-story with just a touch of mysticism. This story had an ageless and timeless feel, and does a masterful job of blending sadness and hope. Francesca's family is still reeling after the death of her little brother, Simon. Her mother buries herself in work for a foundation she started in her son's honor, while Francesca's father seems distant and absent. Meanwhile, Francesca is hired to babysit Frankie Sky, a four year-old boy whose father was recently killed in combat. She can't believe that Frankie's mother actually trusts her to watch Frankie after what happened to Simon. And she begins to think that Frankie might be the reincarnation of her dead brother. To make matters even more confusing, Francesca feels tremendous guilt over the fact that she's in love with her best friend's boyfriend. This is somewhat ironic, because she is also convinced that her father is having an affair.
All these plot elements -- loss, betrayal, first love, guilt, and hope -- are beautifully woven together against the backdrop of a summer at the beach. Frankie Sky is an adorable imp in the Junie B. Jones mold, using mixed-up syntax and bad grammar to hilarious effect. While the whole parental affair plot could have easily come off as cheesy or melodramatic, it was executed with a subtlety and sense of ambiguity that left me very impressed. If you're a fan of authors like Jessi Kirby, you should definitely give this book a try.
by Ava Dellaira
To be published by FSG Books for Young Readers
on April 1, 2014.
Source: requested from the publisher for review.
Synopsis from Goodreads: It begins as an assignment for English class: Write a letter to a dead person. Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because her sister, May, loved him. And he died young, just like May did. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to people like Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Amelia Earhart, Heath Ledger, and more; though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating new friendships, falling in love for the first time, learning to live with her splintering family. And, finally, about the abuse she suffered while May was supposed to be looking out for her. Only then, once Laurel has written down the truth about what happened to herself, can she truly begin to accept what happened to May. And only when Laurel has begun to see her sister as the person she was; lovely and amazing and deeply flawed; can she begin to discover her own path.My take: I am not usually a fan of epistolary fiction and, yes, the title of this book should have clued me into the fact that this book falls into that category. There were definitely things that I liked about Love Letters to the Dead. The writing is lovely and I thought the story offered up a wrenchingly sad portrayal of a girl who's seeking a fresh start after the death of her sister. When Laurel was narrating her own life in the letters, I liked the story a lot.
That said, books told through letters always feel unsatisfying on a certain level. To me, most if not all epistolary books suffer from awkward exposition (there are things that narrators need to tell us that seem out of place in a letter) and a lack a sense of immediacy or urgency. The lack of urgency isn't an issue in the book, because Laurel's sister is already dead, but the awkward exposition issue did rear its head for me. Laurel began many of her letters by telling the addressee about their own life in the second person, as if they were receiving some kind of after-lifetime achievement award. ("Dear Kurt Cobain, You were the center of attention in your family, but your parents divorced when you were eight...") This gave the book a weird "Hollywood Biography" feeling and kept pulling me out of the story. Then, I was under the impression that all the letter recipients died young, like Kurt Cobain, but that wasn't the case. I couldn't figure out why some of the recipients were chosen other than that they forwarded the plot in some way, which felt a little forced.
Even thought it wasn't a perfect fit for me as a reader, Love Letters to the Dead definitely had a lot of strengths. f you love epistolary fiction, literary writing, and love and loss stories, you should definitely check it out.
Have you read either of these? What did you think?