by Cindy L. Rodriguez
Compared to others, her life and her problems were pretty ordinary. So why did it all feel like she was in an epic battle?
Elizabeth’s father left with another woman, and she feels lost. Even more, she doesn’t know what to do with all the anger his absence left behind. Emily feels herself drifting slightly from her two best friends. And she is overwhelmed by the pressures to be perfect thanks to her father’s life in the public eye. Elizabeth and Emily have friends in common, but skirt around being friends themselves. Still, they are united by their English class in which they are studying Emily Dickinson, and the poet speaks to both girls.
In many ways this novel was what I wanted last years Belzhar to be. Dickinson had a role to play in these girls lives. The teacher was actively involved. Each chapter was named after a line of Dickinson’s poetry. And Rodriguez’s author’s note reveals even more inspiration if you want to dig even deeper with the Dickinson parallels. Yet the narrative never felt overwhelmed by the famous poet. These girl’s lives were first and foremost.
There were times, especially in the middle, where I thought the novel dragged. But, Rodriguez was always honest in her portrayals and was not going to rush something just to make things feel more dramatic. At times, I feel like I’ve been here before in terms of the thematic elements. I’m not sure how this novel really approaches any of the issues in a new way. But, I keep reading genre fiction with the same basic parts and often don’t question it. So why should I do that with a title that obviously puts mental health at such a premium. And allows these girls to exist as full human beings. While there is a bit of romance in the novel, this book is not a vehicle for romance. Rather, we are allowed to see the complete pictures of these young women’s relationships. Although, at times I wish Rodriguez would dig deeper. There was more emotional truth underneath the surface that was shied away from in some instances. Still, the end result is solid.
Fans of contemporary young adult should definitely read this book. And I think it’s definitely worth a look for everyone. If I was purchasing for a large audience of teens, be it as a librarian or an English classroom, I would not hesitate to include this title.