This book had perfect timing.
This book was too overwhelming to read in a day.
This book was too tender to feel all at once.
And yet, it wasn’t bleak, it was fervent.
It’s hard sometimes to be pushed by a book. You don’t want to believe the heat of your own nerves. But this book is unfathomable. I was moved more than any book I’ve read this year and I think this book is categorized YA. However, it’s one of those books that will sit in every section of the bookstore. It actually aches to know that because this book was published by Flux Publishing (quickly becoming one of my new favorite publishers) it may not get a chance at large retail stores. So, before we get into anything, here is the link to preorder this book. Which, you must, you must. I will become fervent, the word of this review.
Okay, I know right now that everyone is obsessed with the okay? okay. of The Fault In Our Stars. However, grief has other angles. Grief isn’t a box, it has too many sides, and can’t be constructed together with engineering, or math. It has several smells, several letters, and there is no google search that will tell you how many words for “sad” that any language has. (If you find one, link to it). Wikipedia hasn’t even tried to tackle the “sad” arena. The best way I can describe the characters of this book is by using the word: saudade. I wrote it on my very first pair of pink converses from 9th grade. It’s a Portuguese word for “melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing may never return” (Wikipedia).
Anna is a girl consumed so much with grief that she practices coffin yoga. The art of making yourself so still that death is close, breathing on your cheek. It means holding your breath, it means stillness, it means the calmness that comes from within the closed coffin. She thinks of the coffin as her secret keeper, where all the thoughts she doesn’t want to think can go and die. Her grief, like everyone’s grief, is not rational. Her family life has fallen apart. Her sister, Bea, tracks her grief by hiding for hours in areas like the oven (Holy shit is right). Which leads to Anna’s references to literature (Hey, Sylvia, I’m lookin’ at you girl).
“The shrinks all want to talk about coffin yoga. They can’t fathom the way some people have no rhyme or reason to their mourning. How maybe there are more ways to grieve than the stupid five steps outlined in their colorful pamphlets. Next time I see my new doc, I’ll probably tell her I’m adding a no-thinking rule into coffin yoga. She’ll ask what it might symbolize. And I’ll glare at her ridiculous red-rimmed glasses and flowing tunic. I’ll speak slow and clear, so she might understand there’s nothing representative about this. My mind just needs the break. Because: That crack in the ceiling looks like a vein” (Words and Their Meanings).
Anna’s grief is real. It will break you as you read. It would be especially hard to be her best friend, Nat, because I can’t imagine trying to build a bridge to reach her. She’s so inside the tunnel of herself that nothing exists outside of that shadow. She’s in the darkness so often, it’s impossible to even reach under into the “coffin” and pull on her arm. While Anna is the main character, the other character’s are just as strong. Nat, the best friend, has her own story of love and loss. Gramps is a maker of machines, a fixer, an upper, (separately and together), and he folds creases into cranes with his grandchildren. Joe is the cause of the grief, he is Anna’s Bruncle. They share roof and cloud philosophy and then they begin to separate. They try to hurt one another in order to save one another. It’s a difficult relationship, and it’s even more difficult for the reader because Joe never has a voice in the novel, he is built by the characters around him that are crumbling. The family is beautiful and broken and the best part is that you never hate one of these characters. They are consumed with otherness and yet, they are still lovely. It just proves, love the broken things; don’t throw the mug away without the handle, don’t laugh at the girl with the scars, hug the people who were built on a foundation of cracks.
“Our relationship still has too many blank spaces, and I’m sick of people I love being defined by stories I haven’t heard first hand” (Words and Their Meanings).
Then, there’s a boy. We all knew that was coming. However, like Frozen, he is not the answer to all of Anna’s problems. And he has his own story. That’s the best part of this novel, each character has a distinct story that is enough to make them. He is swoon-worthy though, as expected. We all would have wanted to meet him in high school.
I loved this book. I was a mountain while I read, it was that good. In the end, I had tears in my eyes because of Anna’s own becoming. She’s a writer, this book is full of art and lies and the dynamics of family that has been torn apart to be put back together. It’s a story of the flower of grief that can clog our throats and trap our humanness in its roots. The plot was so new, and so inviting. It left me.
“I can still taste what it feels like to be sixteen and totally f#$ked up” (Words and Their Meanings).
It just left me. There’s no way it left me, it just left me. I sat there puzzled and immediately wanted to review it. I can’t even explain how good this book is, what an amazing story and what an important story for teenagers and people who once were teenagers (cough, cough). Anna is all of us. She’s me when I cut all my Barbie’s hair at seven and they all forever wore pixie cuts. She’s me when I taped sad Tumblr quotes to my mirror about teenagehood when I was sixteen. She’s me when I stood in a row of bleachers tonight and prayed with over two hundred people for our county quarterback. Grief is a thing. It grows, it forms fists, and it listens while people beg for it to leave. But it’s a silent killer. And I think this book shows how grief can own someone.
Someone once said, “Be Kind; Everyone You Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle,” and this book is the truth of that statement. Every single person in this story has an inner self and an outer self and they’re always at odds. I think we all live that battle a little bit, especially in a social media world where everything is how we present ourselves on the interwebs vs. who we are in real life.
“We’re all made of opposites, and they often crucify us” (Words and Their Meanings).
And if we could each get closer to that small spark that makes us who we are in real life then just imagine what kind of things we could conquer. We could be the Beyonce. We could be the cornerstone. We could be the flashlight that alights someone stuck in their wood coffin.
This book is out September 8th from Flux Publishing. It can be preordered now. Be sure to comment your thoughts below or visit the Books & Bowel Movements instagram @bookishcassie to see my 15-second book review.