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No One’s There To Pick Up The Pieces

Forever Young Adult Presents: A review of Pieces of Us by Margie Gelbwasser

No One’s There To Pick Up The Pieces

BOOK REPORT for Pieces of Us by Margie Gelbwasser

Cover Story: Role Model
BFF Charm: A WORLD OF NO (But Here's A Pamphlet From A Counseling Facility)
Swoonworthy Scale: 0 Minus Infinity x A Trillion
Talky Talk: He Said, She Said, He Said, She Said
Bonus Factor: Summer At The Lake
Anti-Bonus Factors: The Patti Chase Awful Mom Award
Relationship Status: Mandatory Reporter

Cover Story: Role Model

THIS is what covers should look like. The bright red swing against the washed-out colors of the rest of the photo, the haunting, open sky above, the emptiness of that red swing, like someone just leapt off -- the atmosphere is creepy and sad and perfect for the book. It's a beautiful cover. Please note the absence of: faces (big, small, half, or otherwise), girls (floating, headless, or dead), and dresses (fancy or not fancy).

The Deal:

Since they were small, Katie and Julia have spent every summer at the lake with their Russian grandparents and several other Russian immigrant families. At the lake, they're not Katie and Julia; they're Katya and Julya, and their best friends Alex and Kyle become Sasha and Kostya. But the time comes when they're unable to keep their summer selves and school year selves separate, and the consequences are devastating -- Katie's Little Miss Perfect world comes tumbling down around her, Julie has to decide whether to support her sister or take advantage of the attention her mother finally shows her, and Alex and Kyle must confront the years of abuse they've taken -- and given.

BFF Charm: A WORLD OF NO (But Here's A Pamphlet From A Counseling Facility)

These four kids are such a toxic mess of hell, they make an offshore landfill look like a beach resort. It's not their fault, for sure, but I am just not a good enough person to do more than stammer nervously when they sit next to me in class and suggest they maybe talk to a doctor or trusted adult. Oh, and take my position as mandatory reporter v. v. seriously -- in fact, for these four, I think I'd have CPS on speed dial number 1. I understand why they are so, so fucked up, and I desperately want them to get help so they stop fucking up other people, but I just can't handle to hang out with them. I might think about befriending Katie or Kyle once they start getting some help -- their silence is so tragic and so understandable -- but Alex and Julia are lucky I will even admit I know their names.

Swoonworthy Scale: 0 Minus Infinity x A Trillion

I don't want to get spoilery about what goes on, since a big part of the book's appeal is the way Gelbwasser makes the reader feel like they're extracting the secrets bit by bit from the reluctant narrators, but any story involving rape and abuse does not even come close to the right side on the swoonworthy scale number line. I couldn't even give the "maybe it'll be okay" parts a positive number because, thanks to the alternating viewpoints, I knew exactly how much of a shitbird Alex was, and I couldn't stand Julie's vituperative clinging.

Talky Talk: He Said, She Said, He Said, She Said

The book alternates among the points of view of Alex, Katie, Julie and Kyle. Each character has a very distinct voice, although Alex's feels forced -- a wannabe Eminem with his parade of chicks and liberal use of misogynist sexual slurs, although I won't deny him a tragic, shitty childhood. Telling the story like this makes it hard to take sides, since you not only know how each character feels and why, but you also know how they're seen by the others. The subject matter is raw to begin with, and this just makes it wrenching. Kyle is so damaged, he can't even tell his story in the first person, and while it's definitely grating, Gelbwasser crafts some magnificent sentences.

When you and Julie were kids, the two of you took pictures there. The kind where you put your head on top of a cowboy or cowgirl body. Maybe you can do this again with her. Just have fun like you used to before her hands began creating detailed plans to touch yours.

The problem with all the jumping back and forth is some thematic threads get lost, or muddied, and a few of the symbolic pieces weren't as strong as they could have been, but overall, it's powerful.

Bonus Factor: Summer At The Lake

But hey! Part of this story takes place at a beautiful upstate New York lake community, with cabins and clotheslines and berry picking! Kind of like Kellerman's, without Johnny Castle or organized leisure time. Or Jerry Orbach. This story really needed Jerry Orbach.

Anti-Bonus Factor: The Patty Chase Awful Mom Award

I feel awful besmirching Patty Chase here, because the moms in this book make her look like Tami Taylor. Yes, she's self-centered and kind of a bitch, and while she sometimes wishes she could relive high school through Angela, she doesn't tell her the only chance in life is to land a hot, rich man and not to fuck it up. And at least she's not a prostitute or stripper who lets her pimps beat the shit out of her kids. So bully for you, Patty.

Casting Call:

Aimee Teegarden as Julie

Andrew Keegan as Alex

I fucking hate that guy.

Relationship Status: Mandatory Reporter

When I met this book, I thought it was just going to be a typical kid, maybe a little angsty, but nothing unusual. I was drawn in by its habit of writing in a little notebook -- I could tell it had a way with words and something interesting to say. But after chatting a few times, I realized it was majorly fucked up, and what it really needed was someone to call the authorities and get it some help -- and make sure someone paid for their crimes.

Dropping the (rather thin) analogy, the book was strongly written and a compelling look at abuse and victims -- and everyone's a victim to a degree. It's realistic and damaged, and it's wonderful Gelbwasser didn't say, "Wow, reality is too fucked up anyway -- why should I write about it? I'll write a story about a rainbow-colored puppy and his best friend, the sparkly unicorn and how they opened a cupcake bakery!" because someone out there needs this book -- someone needs the shred of hope, and someone else needs the sharp gutpunch of understanding. Just know that "enjoyable" probably wasn't top on the author's list of goals for this one.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from Flux, via NetGalley. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). Pieces of Us will be available March 8.

Meghan Miller's photo About the Author: Meghan is an erstwhile librarian in exile from Texas and writer for Forever Young Adult. She loves books, cooking and homey things like knitting and vintage cocktails. Although she’s around books all the time, she doesn’t get to read as much as she’d like.