Monday, March 5, 2012

Pieces of Us - Review

From the publisher:
Two families. Four teens. A summer full of secrets.  
Every summer, hidden away in a lakeside community in upstate New York, four teens leave behind their old identities…and escape from their everyday lives.  
Yet back in Philadelphia during the school year, Alex cannot suppress his anger at his father (who killed himself), his mother (whom he blames for it), and the girls who give it up too easily. His younger brother, Kyle, is angry too—at his abusive brother, and at their mother who doesn’t seem to care. Meanwhile, in suburban New Jersey, Katie plays the role of Miss Perfect while trying to forget the nightmare that changed her life. But Julie, her younger sister, sees Katie only as everything she’s not. And their mother will never let Julie forget it.  

Up at the lake, they can be anything, anyone. Free. But then Katie’s secret gets out, forcing each of them to face reality—before it tears them to pieces.
Writing a review of a book like Pieces of Us is difficult. I met Margie Gelbwasser through our 2010 debut book group THE TENNERS, and I've been a fan ever since.  Her debut Inconvenient was heartbreaking and beautiful; a frank look at the effects alcoholism can have on a family.  Pieces of Us continues Margie's tradition of delivering bracing honesty and refusing to pull punches.  

Alex isn't the kind of character kids should look up to.  Katie is so damaged and broken that she can't even see how damaged she truly is.  Kyle is the least messed up of these characters, and even he often tried my patience.  But despite how fractured and screwed up they are, they are hauntingly beautiful.  And that is thanks to Margie's expert handling of them.  She doesn't hold back.  The pain, the anguish, the brutality of their lives, is painted on the pages without a filter.  These characters aren't two-dimensional creations whose problems all reset at the end of the book, they're as real as characters in a book can be.  I wouldn't want to be friends with Alex, but I knew guys like him.    

Pieces of Us isn't an "issue book."  There is no tidy resolution, no easy answers, no after-school special sing-along to carry everyone home.  It will break your heart a little if you let it, and you should let it.  Because this is a special kind of book, framed by wonderful, lyrical writing.

I said this was a tough book to review because each of these characters will, at least once in the book, make you hate them.  I've always believed that the best books are the ones that leave you thinking about them for days.  Books that strike such a sharp chord inside of you that you can't get the characters out of your head.  Pieces of Us is one such book.  I'd rank it up there with books like Jay Asher's 13 Reasons Why and Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta.  And though you may hate Alex and Katie and Julie and Kyle at different points in the book, by the end, their pain will be yours, and you won't help but feel for them.  

Should you read Pieces of Us?  Yes.  This is a book that deserves to be read, to be talked about.  To be loved and hated and given to everyone you know.  Books are meant to make us feel, and Pieces of Us will leave you raw.   It's that good.

Be sure to come back Wednesday for my in-depth interview with Margie Gelbwasser!

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