Honestly, I was really looking forward to reading this book. I’m a sucker for a pretty cover, and the idea of poetry to cope with the aftermath of suicide fascinates me. However, the first thing that struck me about this book was the third-person present-tense narration. Unless you are really new to my reviews, you’ll know that I pretty much loathe present tense writing. I can’t get into it. I feel disconnected from the characters and the story. It’s just…wrong. Nothing about it feels right or natural to me, so I generally don’t enjoy stories written that way. But third person present tense just…that really feels wrong to me. The way the story was written and set up, you could tell it was meant to be artistic. However, in terms of telling the story and allowing us, as readers, to feel what Emily Beam feels in the wake of tragedy, the style fails miserably. Everything feels disconnected, and in an attempt to be artsy, a realistic narration and dialogue is lost.
However, despite the flaws here, I found myself enjoying parts of it. This book contains a poem after every chapter, and while Emily writes a lot of poems, the ones we get to read are part of a collection she creates later in the story. Some of the poems were simply spectacular, and the artistic lines really worked and were able to shine there. It’s easy to tell that Hubbard is a poet deep down inside, because she tries to work the poetry into the story itself, though it worked less than it does in the actual poetry. Mostly, Emily is numb throughout the book, but the parts where she really breaks down and the parts where she really feels were amazing to read, and I wish more of the book had been like that for me.
In terms of content, it can be a little mature at times. I felt like Emily and Paul’s sexual encounters were focused on a bit too much (though there were by no means any “sex scenes” in this book), and that also took a little away from my overall enjoyment. There’s very little cursing, so read at your own will.
An ARC of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
What I Liked: Spoilers!
- Some of the poetry in this book was absolutely gorgeous. I’m not always a fan of poetry—I hate writing it (except when specifically inspired), and sometimes, I really do hate reading it. Not all of it worked for my taste, but some of it was just plain exquisite. Hubbard really is an artistic writer, and while I didn’t feel like the style worked for telling this particular story, you can see how well it flows in the poetry. It actually ended up making a pretty good parallel in the story of Emily’s life—the day-to-day things feel numb and closed-off, but the poetry is open and free, flowing and emotional. I really enjoyed the look into the different style of writing.
- Occasionally, the story was just haunting. When you reach the parts of the story where Emily stops feeling numb and just lets her emotions out, it really resonates with the reader. These moments were, unfortunately, far fewer than I wish they had been, but what I did get was pretty nice. This is the first book I’ve read in awhile that actually deals with the aftermath of suicide in a realistic manner, and the small look we got at Emily’s feelings of guilt and grief were…strangely lovely.
What I Didn’t Like:
- This might be just me, because of my moral ideologies. But since it bothered me, I’ll still mention it, regardless of the political views of anyone who may read this review. For me, abortion is a very touchy subject. It’s one of the few issues where I honestly can’t understand any part of the opposing side, and I hate saying that because, regardless of how I feel about things, I like to at least see where someone else is coming from. But with abortion, I just…I can’t. I’m very pro-life; extremely pro-life. For me, personally, there are very, very few situations, if any, where I think it would be okay to abort a child, especially after the heart begins to beat (which is only after five weeks, if I recall correctly). Emily gets pregnant in this book, with Paul. Emily tells her parents about it, and they immediately decide she needs to get an abortion. Because the abortion and their break-up, Paul kills himself. Please do not misunderstand. Emily has a nice family. They are well off. She claims that she and Paul love each other, and even if they didn’t want to get married or even stay together, there is basically no reason for Emily to get an abortion, other than not wanting to deal with her choices and the consequences of those choices. It even narrates, “They could have lied to everyone and gone off and had the abortion—together. She and Paul could have rewritten history, sashaying their way into the future, putting the past in a box to store in the attic” (loc. 962). Emily fails to recognize that it wasn’t the fact that people knew she was pregnant that ended up killing Paul—it was that she, and her parents, wanted to kill Paul’s baby—a baby Paul wanted to keep, if not let live and be adopted by another family. Emily and her family refused to deal with her being pregnant, and even though Emily protested against the abortion after Paul’s suicide, her parents don’t leave her with a choice. I absolutely hate that the baby got the blame for what happened to Paul, and between him and Emily. Emily’s family can afford to let her give birth to the baby, even if they gave it up in the end. There was no reason for them to kill it, and I found myself unable to sympathize with Emily throughout the story because of her inability to realize that Paul didn’t want his child, their child, to be killed because of their selfishness.
- I know I’ve said this before, but third person present tense? Really? It just ends up sounding like a nature documentary. There is nothing natural about writing this way. It’s just…uncomfortable and awkward. And because we weren’t in Emily’s head at all, we lost a lot of the emotion and grief that I think we were supposed to feel through the course of this novel. The writing was so cryptic that the feelings were completely lost. And Emily never came across as a realistic person because of it. She wanders around and does things that are supposedly out of character, like picking up smoking on a whim, and sneaking out to break into the Emily Dickinson house, and very easily telling people about what has happened to her. She opens up to her French teacher with no apparent struggle, and even lets her roommate, KT, look at her poems without a second though. She tells KT about Paul’s suicide with no emotion, no grief, no anything, and I never felt connected to her. None of it seemed like it could be remotely real. It’s like watching a movie that is only filmed in weird angles and uses very little dialogue and is so “artistic” that the point of the film is lost entirely.
Overall: In theory, this would have been a very emotional and gripping novel, but some of it just fell flat. Certain parts were beautifully written, and I by no means hated this book, but it just didn’t…work for me. Between the writing style and Emily’s inability to understand why Paul wouldn’t want their child to be aborted and thus blaming the baby and Paul for his death just lost me and the things I did like weren’t enough to overshadow those things that bothered me. I, personally, wouldn’t recommend this book based on my own enjoyment, but I think fans of poetic and artsy styles would have a better time reading this novel than I did.