Cover of Wreck by Kirstin Cronn-Mills. A lighthouse at night on a lake.

About the Book

Title: Wreck
Published: 2019

Cover Story: Gitchee Gumee
Drinking Buddy: Yes
Testosterone Estrogen Level: Subdued
Talky Talk: Sigh
Bonus Factors: Assisted Suicide, Lake Superior
Bromance Status: There With You At the End

Cover Story: Gitchee Gumee

Tobin and her father live in Duluth, on the shores of Lake Superior. The lighthouse is very artsy, but again, I never cared for dark covers. They don’t draw the eye.

The Deal:

Tobin has an okay life. While her mother abandoned the family to live in France, Tobin’s father, Steve, is a great provider and friend. Tobin is an aspiring photographer, with college prospects, a job, and a bright future. And then her world collapses.

Her father has been diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). He’s going to die. Soonish. But this is a nasty disease, which will eventually cause her father to lose the ability to control any of his muscles. He won’t be able to walk. To speak. To take care of himself. He’ll be in pain. His mental capacity will diminish.

Tobin is absolutely not equipped to deal with this. A caregiver named Ike moves in, making Tobin unable to relax in her own home. Her friends don’t seem to understand the hell she’s going through. Her mother is AWOL. Her father’s mental facilities decline, causing him to act erratically, and sometimes belligerently. And that’s not even the worst part.

Her father, an EMT, has gotten a hold of some powerful drugs. Drugs strong enough to stop one’s heart. And Steve intends to take them before things get too bad. He doesn’t want to end up as a helpless invalid. He doesn’t want to forget who he is. He’s going to leave this world on his own terms.

Ike knows his plan, and while he won’t stop him, he won’t help him, either. Which means it’s all up to Steve. Or possibly Tobin.

Drinking Buddy: Yes

Two pints of beer cheersing

Tobin is just an average seventeen-year-old. She’s trying to get together a portfolio for college, using her old Star Wars action figures as a photography study. Her musician friend, Sid, is clearly interested in her, but she’s not sure that’s a line she’s ready to cross. She’s got friends, she’s got a social life, she’s got things to do.

Only now, she doesn’t. Her father is dying. On a schedule. He won’t be around to see her graduate. He’s making arrangements with his life insurance. Tobin doesn’t have time to have fun. Her father’s 50th birthday is coming up, and she’s making sure he’s going to have the best party ever!

Because it’s going to be his last party ever.

Testosterone Estrogen Level: Subdued

Tobin is understandably feeling overwhelmed. In addition to her father’s condition, she’s got the stresses of a regular teenager’s life. She works at a thrift store, and the customers’ negative Yelp reviews don’t take into account that the snippy counter girl is dealing with her father’s terminal illness. Her friend Sid, a guy who plays his violin on street corners for change, is talented, handsome, and always there with a shoulder to cry on. He’s enough of a gentleman not to push for more, but Tobin can’t say the idea has never crossed her mind. But how can she even think of something like that when her father is…you know. And her friends…they understand. At least they try to. But when someone makes a crack about Tobin being lucky to have a hot young man like Ike living in her house…how can people joke at a time like this?

Tobin really needs a break from all this stress. And she’s going to get one. Permanently. She knows the exact date.

Talky Talk: Sigh

Once again, I want to hug a fictional character. Tobin is overwhelmed watching her father decay. He was an EMT, a runner, and and a funny, intelligent man. Now he relies more and more on Ike for the simplest tasks, and it’s only going to get worse. Even more depressing is her father’s mental decline. He gets confused and angry. When he’s invited to say a few words at  a race he used to participate in, he ends up swearing at the spectators. He randomly says insulting things to strangers. He calls Tobin a bitch. None of this is her real father, and Tobin cannot stand to see him like this. But the alternative…

This book was a realistic portrayal of ALS, though clearly not a cheery one.

Bonus Factor: Assisted Suicide

ALS is a nasty disease, and this is not Tobin’s first experience with it. Years ago, she witnessed a neighbor die from it, after becoming trapped in a body that could no longer do anything, including speak. She can’t allow her father to go through that. But how can she allow him to end his own life?

No easy answers.

Bonus Factor: Lake Superior

A moose walks through a lake in front of a forest and mountain

Tobin and her father live in Duluth, on the shores of Lake Michigan. He loved the water, and he loved tall ships. And when Tobin decides to throw him an amazing 50th birthday party on the beach, she plans something very special…

Bromance Status: There With You At the End

I’m not crying. You’re crying.

Literary Matchmaking

Strangers Assume My Girlfriend is My Nurse

For an upbeat memoir about a man losing his physical abilities, read Shane Burcaw’s Strangers Assume My Girlfriend is My Nurse.

Johnny Got His Gun

Or for a much more depressing novel about loss of physical ability, check out Johnny Got His Gun, by Dalton Trumbo.

The November Girl

• For a creepier book about Lake Superior, try Lydia Kang’s The November Girl.

FCC Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, but no money or Gordon Lightfoot CDs.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.