To understand my feelings about this book, I should make it clear that when I requested an ARC of this from NetGalley, there was absolutely no mention of suicide in the book description. It said something about “in the wake of tragedy”–which I figured was the tragedy that occurred in the first couple chapters of the novel. I struggled with the sudden suicide of the stranger Rowan’s father tried to save (and the infant son the man took with him), because I wasn’t expecting it. I was affected far more by Rowan’s father’s suicide later in the book. I read the section on not the best of days, and having become rather sensitive to unexpected suicides in books, it really affected how much I was able to enjoy reading this.
Perhaps if I had known, I would have put off reading it until I was in the mood. That’s the thing with books about suicide, for me–I need to be in the mood, I need time to mentally and emotionally prepare myself for what I’m going to read. Having it thrust upon me so unexpectedly really freaked me out, on a personal level, and while I know that’s to no fault of Wiess as a writer or a storyteller, it affected my feelings of the book 100%. In the past, I’ve noticed that almost every book that has an unexpected suicide in it, I’ve given lower ratings than those where I knew it was coming. So, when reading my opinion here, please keep in my that I couldn’t be entirely objective and a lot of my own personal experience and feelings changed the way I might have felt about it had I been a little more prepared to read it.
That all being said, as usual, I genuinely hated the present tense narration (surprise, surprise), but I can say that I haven’t cried this much while reading a book probably since The Book Thief. Even before Rowan’s father killed himself, before I knew that was even going to happen, there would be little things, lines, that would really get to me and make me tear up, and it happened even more after the fact. Despite harboring somewhat negative feelings regarding the whole experience of reading this book itself, I admired those strong points, the parts that really spoke to me, and I genuinely wish I could take back time, request it when I knew the full description, and go in knowing what to expect so that I could know for sure how I might have liked this book otherwise. However, I can’t change any of that, so I’ll have to leave it to my readers to decide which parts of my opinion are going to be mostly limited to me and how they think they will be able to deal with this book themselves.
I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
What I Liked:
- As I mentioned, my favorite part about this book was reading the little lines, little scenes, between some of the characters that just ended up speaking volumes to me. After Corey (the man Rowan’s father tried to save) kills himself and his three-month-old son, Sammy, Rowan’s father (Nick) falls into a deep depression. There was something in the way that Rowan and her mother would navigate around him, and there were insights that Rowan had about life and mourning and guilt that just…got to me, in a lot of ways. After the suicide of her father, those insights and moments grow. Despite what the description might make you think, this is less a love story than it’s a story of growth and mourning and navigating a broken household after a terrible tragedy–and what, exactly, it means to be one of the “survivors” of a suicide. Rowan is angry, guilty, sad, numb–everything you can think of. She begins to write her father letters in her grief journal, and whenever she talked about being scared, and not knowing whether or not she would fall into the same hole her dad did all really got to me. Plus, Rowan and her mom learned a lot together and had to learn to be a family again, and honestly, it was pretty inspiring to me to read those parts. The first time they laugh together, when they cry together, when they go through his things, when they go out–it’s all very moving, and I would heavily recommend this book for anyone who has lost a family member to suicide. I have never lost a family member to suicide, but I imagine reading this would have lots of benefits for someone who has gone through that.
- Somewhat on a related note, something Rowan said really struck me. Her father had depression–nothing else had changed in his life after witnessing Corey’s suicide except that it triggered something in his mind that made him believe he was worthless. His family loved him, he had his job and partners in the law force who cared about him, and supportive friends and family. He was a great man in every possible way. But Rowan remarks that everyone seemed to be asking her why, and she couldn’t tell them–that everyone seems to want to pinpoint one single moment where he must have finally decided, one last thing to finally tip him over the edge. But…it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes there isn’t a moment, or a reason. There was a chemical imbalance in his brain, and that was the only thing in his life that made him choose what he did. I think that was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever realized in my life–that there doesn’t have to be something “wrong”–it might just happen because your brain has decided to fight a battle against you and you just can’t win anymore. But, if you are ever witness to the aftermath of a suicide, it also teaches how important it is to recognize that there might not always be a reason–some things just happen, and while that’s incredibly sad, I think that’s another moment for growth. To stop blaming yourself or anyone else and just realize that maybe there really was nothing that could have been done.
What I Didn’t Like:
- For reasons I’ve talked about here before, I’m sensitive to the subject of suicide. For other reasons that I don’t feel like going into, unexpected suicides in books/movies are really a touchy subject for me, and more often than not, it ends badly for me and my opinion of the book. Reading this…it fell on a bad day, for a bad reason, and it was all just very bad. I felt so sick so many times when I read this, and once again, I know that it isn’t Wiess’s fault or the book’s fault that I couldn’t really enjoy it because of my own background and triggers, but it all added up to how I felt about the book. It’s not something that can be improved upon and it’s not something that can be “fixed”. But the whole story weighed so heavily on me, and the unexpectedness of it all took its toll on me and I found it difficult to get through the rest of the book because of it. If you are also sensitive to suicides in books or films, please consider carefully whether or not this is the book for you. I think it can be beneficial to survivors of a suicide, but if you’re anything like me, you need a good, clear warning going into it in order to get anything out of it at all. Here, it just…got to me. I didn’t know. And it, unfortunately, affected my whole experience, and I’m really sorry about that.
- On a lighter note, I met present tense again in this read. I still don’t understand this style or why people insist on using it, but I do recognize that some people think it has a place–I just don’t really agree with that opinion. And the couple chapters that were in third person present tense were just…sjkfrhtcnksjcrhsjgh. (I don’t think I’ve ever used a keyboard smash in a review before, but there we are.) I was grateful beyond belief that there were only two chapters like that, but still–I just don’t mix well with present tense and I don’t feel like it worked here, either. I liked the story, but I really disliked the writing style.
Overall: This is a tough book for me to form an opinion on. I don’t really know how to feel about it–I didn’t like the writing, but I liked the story, but then again, I kind of didn’t like the story because it stirred things up for me that I wasn’t prepared to handle, and it was all kind of a mess, in my experience. I think this book definitely has a place on the bookshelf, though, and I would recommend it for anyone who has gone through a suicide in their family, recently or otherwise–I can’t really warn against being blindsided like I was since the description is more complete now. I could see myself recommend this, though, despite my personal feelings about the writing style.