November 30, 2005

The Agony & the Eclipse: Books About Grief Taking Over

When I go to writer's conferences, I hear a lot about how much writers should be discussing certain issues - death, grief, etc., I'm always interested in how hysterical people get over these topics, meanwhile, people are quietly publishing books on just about everything, including paralyzing, debilitating, young adult grief. Here are my takes on a few sad stories I've read lately:

"Please, sir," I said. "Can't we wait for Alaska?"
Looking for Alaska, by John Greene was the big buzz on 'edgy.' I don't know why. For some reason I equate "edgy" with sexual content, and this book really didn't have much. What it did, have, was an energetic, free-spirited, disturbed and brilliant character who lived and died like the proverbial 'candle in the wind.' Her friends at boarding school spend pages by turns grieving and raging over her abrupt, difficult, mysterious, blow-hot-blow-cold life. In the end, they all have to admit that they all were a little in love with her, and move on. A really nice aspect of this book is that it's mostly about boys coping with grief -- holding each other, weeping, being personally introspective, and surviving. Spots of funny, spots of sad. Beautifully written.

"She's gone. What else is there to say?"
Adele Griffin's characters are sisters; one dead, and one alive, who live side-by-side in a world seen through a murky window in Where I Want to Be. That seems typical of many of Griffin's books. Also typical of her books is a character who is deeply dependent on others, in this case a far-too-long-suffering boyfriend, to help them cope. Lyrically crafted with beautiful, subtle language the shade of smoke gray grief, the story uses flashbacks to make sure the reader isn't overwhelmed. It was a bittersweet relationship between the sisters, at best, and the ambivalence understandably makes moving on a lot harder.

"One moment, you're flying over snow with the person you love, and the next you're plunging into cold dark water toward the end of everything. Just like that."
Marsha Qualey has written a book about loss and self discovery -- and it looks to be a contender for next year's ALA Best Books award.

It begins with a break-up, and with character Hanna Martin feeling like she should feel more upset about losing a boyfriend, or something. Her friends are certainly making a big enough deal about it. One of them even bought her flowers! Sitting by a frozen Minneapolis lake, Hanna has a chance to consider the vagaries of dating, as she surprises a woman skier and her partner engaging in a snowy grope, and has gets an unwrapped condom thrown at her as a couple her own age whiz past on their snowmobile, headed across the lake. The ice on the lake is thin, the skiers have reported, and Hanna should really have go home. Should she have also warned the obnoxious snowmobiling teens? When the girl is found the next morning, frozen, and the boy and snowmobile are missing, Hanna begins a spiral into guilt that could be allowed to become annoying and obsessive, but isn't. From the first intense chapters of the book, Hanna finds first herself, and then other pieces of the story becoming more clear. There's more to everything than she realized - even to the reason why she was sitting by the frozen lake that night.

This is an engaging novel about grieving for lost moments, lost actions, lost relationships and friendships, and then having the courage to explore the truths about oneself and others with perseverance, without anger -- sometimes things are just what they are. The novel's close will bring a smile as well.

Check 'em out!

1 comment:

a. fortis said...

Just read the Marsha Qualey book! Really enjoyable. Kind of a surprise, too--I'd forgotten that I read your review of it and picked it up at random.