Egmont USA, 2012
review by Tessa
There’s a hole in Maggie’s life – her boyfriend just died in a cliff-jumping accident – and in her mind – she was there with him when it happened, but she doesn’t remember anything. But getting her memories back means starting to see the whole picture of who she, Joey, and her friends really were.
Maggie – happy and in love, a little timid but secure in her place in the world (until)
Joey – daredevil boyfriend, always joking, likes Maggie so much that he doesn’t want to call it love.
Shannon – showoffy bestie. The phrase “you know she can be a bitch” seems to follow her around.
Adam – steady dude, foil to Joey
Pete – dreadlocked, laidback, guitar-strummer
Tanna – the sixth friend of the group (I’m sure she’s very nice).
Maggie and her friends live in a small town in Ohio (specific state revealed only by of the Library of Congress Subject Headings). They aren’t cliquey, but they’re tight-knit – they go to parties, know people, drink and have fun, but prefer each other’s company. At the outset of the book, everyone in the group is settled into their designated role – Maggie is sweet and shy, Joey is outgoing and rebellious, Shannon is harsh and fun, Pete is a hippie, etc etc.
After Joey’s death, the group is shaken and their secret selves come shaken loose. Whatever they wanted to be, or were in the process of becoming through growing up either starts to blossom or is revealed by the tragedy. Maggie’s memory loss exacerbates the process, because no one else knows why Joey’s jump from the cliff was so off-kilter. Everyone in the group thinks they’ll get more closure if they know exactly What Happened.
What is the book’s intention and is it achieved?
What could have been simply a poignant exploration of grief takes on more dimensions and becomes a mystery/group growing up story (not quite a bildungsroman). McBride, according to her bio, was an English teacher and yearbook adviser and she obviously spent time observing the teenage condition. Her characters have the un-self-consciousness of friends who are comfortable with each other and have grown up in a small town, a relatively worry-free middle-class group. For that reason they don’t overdose on slang and replicate a kind of Friends-like proto-adult rapport with each other while still retaining that teenage over-jokiness regarding sex and its companion focus on who has and hasn’t had it.
When the friend group starts chafing against each other after Joey’s death, the dynamics are also spot-on. Maggie is trying to figure out why she can’t remember anything, and she’s exploring her memories of her relationship with Joey. She tries to talk to the group, but keeps hitting unexpected anger and, from Adam, outright silence. The switch from mourning to psychological mystery is what sets the book apart from other realistic fiction. As a portrait of a group, it’s very compelling – more so than it would be if it were simply Maggie’s story. There are some real stomach-dropping moments when Maggie finds that she didn’t know who someone really was or was too blinded by how she wanted things to be to see what was really going on. And because they involve someone who is dead, they’re tough realizations to process. The mix of sadness, frustration, and regret is palpable. Although the short, declarative, fragmentary narration is not my personal favorite style (because it sounds over-dramatic to my ear) it works well with Maggie and her shocked, grief-stricken state of mind and doesn’t overwhelm the plot.
I will say that I didn’t totally see Maggie’s brokenness and panic – it was in the story, but I had to work to integrate it with her character and take her word for it. However, anyone who has had a brush with tragedy or loss will be able to layer their experiences over Maggie’s and make the imaginative leap. I’m glad I decided to put the book on hold after reading Liz B.’s review over at A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy.
I’m willing to bet that this will leave you with tight-throat-almost-crying-syndrome the entire time you read it. Mia faces her own life or death. (I also wasn’t totally into the narrative style here but really liked the book anyway.)
As I mentioned in my review (linked above) it’s about a group of friends who maybe aren’t as tight as they think they are, and the revenge that arises from that discrepancy. Coming out soooon.
I seem to be reading in an unintentional theme lately (my review linked above). The re-evaluation of an expired relationship is done so well here, much like (& maybe a little better than?) in One Moment. But no death in this book, and hence much more levity.