Hello everyone, and welcome back!
Most Novembers of my adult-ish life, I’ve done (or at least attempted and failed at) Nanowrimo, last year included. This year, though, given how behind I am on my reading and how little time I’ve had lately to come up with ideas, I thought I’d go with a different marathon: I’m going to try (and maybe fail) to read 30 books this month.
Obviously, I probably won’t have time to write and edit reviews for them all right away, so my volume of posts is unlikely to go up. For now. Buuut this should enable me to schedule some posts further into the future, so we’ll see what happens in time for good old 2018. (So close now, agh.)
In any case, let’s get to my latest read about grief. (And yeah, one of these days, I’ll have to write a post about the YA contemporaries about grief trend, but we’ll get to that soon.)
We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
This cover is very representative of the book and lovely, although comic-y and fairly off-brand re: trends in YA covers in the past years, so I was a little surprised by it.
Can I start commenting on titles, too, though? It’s relevant enough, but dang, this title is bland as heck.
This book is about Marin, who prematurely moved cross-country for college after the death of her grandfather (her only blood family). While she steels herself for a winter break staying alone in the dorms, she also has to contend with a visit from her former best friend, Mabel, who is part of the life in California she ran away from.
This book was a slow, character-driven, internal book, so it won’t be for everyone. (Not unlike what I’ve recently said about When the Moon Was Ours, but this is less about poetic, magical descriptions as it is about deep emotional issues.) If you’re the kind of person who gets bogged down in description and needs there to be action, this will not work for you. In terms of plot, Marin and Mabel mostly just hang out quietly in some snowed-in buildings and talk about the present and think about the past and feel sad. Bowls are significant in this story. For excitement, look elsewhere.
Some books really can’t work when they’re written this way, but We Are Okay is the type of book that fits this style of writing. Marin is lost in her head and memories because her past is actually coming back to dwell in her new space with her. Mabel’s visit is dredging up all of the things that Marin ran away from, that she wasn’t able to handle, and she has to confront those things while accepting the harm she caused by running away from them (and Mabel) in the first place.
I was here for this book because the dredging up of memories felt real, Marin’s complicated feelings of mourning felt genuine, and the characters shared what felt like a very tangible need to reconnect despite how much hurt they felt. Marin’s anxieties and deep hurt were treated with weight but also subtlety; the book never felt melodramatic, despite having an element of “reveal.” This was a book where I felt like it didn’t rely on hyper-tragic plot twists to make me cry, but rather let me sink into mourning with the protagonist and feel with rather than for her.
At the same time, this book was short. It was even shorter than most books I complain about as short. And on one hand, that suits it to some extent, because it has very little plot and you wouldn’t really want it to drag on. At the same time, though, there are gaps in character development and the background we get that feel like they take away from the emotional beats of the book.
For instance: It only becomes clear towards the end how Marin feels deprived of memories of her mother, while that seems by then to be a major issue in the book. Her grandfather’s relationship to the ocean and to her mother is left ambiguous, which makes sense in terms of him not telling Marin much, but not a lot of sense given the fact that Marin is continuously interacting with her mother’s old friends and with her grandfather’s pals. (Although Marin is obviously the type to avoid difficult subjects to refrain from hurting people, given the pain attached to what she doesn’t know, it seems suspiciously not curious of her to never have asked any of these questions from the ages of three to eighteen.)
Also: Mabel and Marin’s personalities and friendship prior to changes of the status quo that happen in the then and now sections aren’t really provided, so we don’t get a clear sense of who they were, what changed, what they lost. Marin’s relationship with Mabel’s family is barely dealt with, with there really being only one meaningful scene, before the end, between Marin and Mabel’s mother, Ana; in the context of how important Javier and Ana turn out to be, that feels like a bit of a shortcoming. (Also, although this wouldn’t be necessary to make anything work better in the book, I wouldn’t have minded more Hannah the roommate. Hannah is pure and true.)
I enjoyed this sparse book and its atmospheric sense of loneliness (there’s nothing that suits this story better than an empty dorm in winter, far from a warm oceanside home). It was sad and lovely and clearly had a lot of heart poured into it, but lacked a bit in terms of making the characters and their relationships individual and memorable.
Do you have a favourite read that deals with grief? (Maybe “favourite” is a strong word for something that’s just basically emotionally devastating.) Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!