Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Review: Pieces of Us by Margie Gelbwasser

Title: Pieces of Us
Author: Margie Gelbwasser
Publisher: Flux
Release date: March 8th 2012
Pages: 336
Genre: Contemporary YA
Source: NetGalley - thank you to NetGalley and Flux Books for providing a free eGalley of this book in exchange for an honest review!
Find out more: Amazon | Goodreads

Goodreads description:
Two families. Four teens. A summer full of secrets. Every summer, hidden away in a lakeside community in upstate New York, four teens leave behind their old identities…and escape from their everyday lives. Yet back in Philadelphia during the school year, Alex cannot suppress his anger at his father (who killed himself), his mother (whom he blames for it), and the girls who give it up too easily. His younger brother, Kyle, is angry too—at his abusive brother, and at their mother who doesn’t seem to care. Meanwhile, in suburban New Jersey, Katie plays the role of Miss Perfect while trying to forget the nightmare that changed her life. But Julie, her younger sister, sees Katie only as everything she’s not. And their mother will never let Julie forget it. Up at the lake, they can be anything, anyone. Free. But then Katie’s secret gets out, forcing each of them to face reality—before it tears them to pieces.

First sentence:
I first met Alex (or Sasha, as his grandparents call him) the day the chicken man came to the lake house.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I liked Margie Gelbwasser's debut, Inconvenient (review), so I was really excited to read her sophomore novel. Add to that the gorgeous cover and awesome-sounding description, and I was sure I'd love Pieces of Us. And while I did love it, it's really, really different from what I'd expected.

The writing is what I liked best about Inconvenient, and it's what I liked best about Pieces of Us, too. Margie Gelbwasser just has a way with words and a great sense of how to give unique situations important symbolic meaning that will stick with you for a long, long time. Every sentence is graceful and rich. Her style is beautiful and vivid. The writing is what makes Pieces of Us work, even in the parts where I had problems with the plot or characters. Margie Gelbwasser created a great sense of atmosphere - even when nothing much is happening, you feel like you're right there with the characters. The atmosphere is tragic and dark, to the point of being somewhat depressing. The great writing even made the unusual narrative work - one of the perspectives is written with a second-person narrator, which is weird in the beginning and takes some getting used to, but is actually pretty genius, when you think about it, and skillfully executed.

The description makes it sound like Pieces of Us takes place over just one summer, but it really covers more than two years of summers and the time in between, too. That made me like the plot a little less, because the pacing is pretty slow and some parts are kind of boring.

Pieces of Us is a lot darker than I'd expected. I thought there would be someting about all of their pasts and problems, but I thought there'd be some romance, too (as in, the two older siblings are going to fall in love and the younger siblings too and they're all going to live happily ever after). And while there are some romantic-interest type relationships, there is no romance in that sense - the novel offers a very pessimistic view of love. The whole story has a dark and gloomy atmosphere, and what happens is dark and tragic, too. I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but some terrible, terrible things happen in Pieces of Us, making you think about how anyone could be so cruel. If I had to pick one word to describe Pieces of Us, it would be "haunting." I could definitely see this being too dark for some people, but it worked for me because, well, I'm weird and I like dark stories. What you're reading is horrible and so wrong, but you can't help reading and wanting to know what happens next. 

The characters are so complex; I don't even know how to describe them. I really liked Julie in the beginning, and her issues with their mom and not being able to live up to Katie are easy to relate to. But later, she makes some really bad choices, and I got frustrated with her after a while. With Katie, it was the exact opposite. I didn't like the carefree and selfish Katie we meet at the beginning of the story, but once the "nightmare that change her life" happens, I could easily sympathize. What she has to go through is terrible, and her helplessness shines through, so that you can't help but feel for her. Towards the end, her bad decisions frustrated me again, though. Alex, though, I just hated throughout the novel. Of course having your father kill himself and that other stuff I can't talk about is all terrible, but ugh! That's no excuse to be such a total and complete ass. Kyle is the character I liked best, since he's the only one who seems to want to do the right thing. I really liked him and found him easiest to relate to.

I know what I said about the characters doesn't sound all that positive, and it's true that they're not all that likeable and make some bad decisions, but it somehow works. They're all fully-developed, realistic characters with complex backgrounds and problems. Their emotions are raw and the relationships are so complex and real. It's strange - I usually need to like the MC in order to like the book, but in Pieces of Us, I didn't mind not really liking the characters. They're so well-written and complicated and real that it doesn't matter.

I absolutely love the cover and title of Pieces of Us, so much more now that I've read the book. Pieces of Us is the perfect title for a story about such broken people, and I love how the swings on the cover tie into the story.

Pieces of Us is a strong, haunting story with graceful, atmospheric writing and complex characters with even more complex relationships. It's hard to pin down - it doesn't have one set topic, just four broken people living in a broken world. I don't think it would work for everyone simply because it's really, really dark - there's an overall sense of desperation and a very pessimistic view of humanity that makes this book hard to read. It worked for me though, and I encourage you to give it a try, if you think you can handle it. Pieces of Us is unlike anything I've ever read before.

If you've read this book, what did you think?

Come back tomorrow, when Kyle stops by the blog as part of the Pieces of Us blog tour - which is perfect, since he's my favorite character!


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