This book is brilliant. Utterly, completely brilliant. It’s heart-wrenching, beautiful, and far transcends the boundaries of young adult. This is one of the best books I’ve read in years. Reading it overwhelmed me and threatened to break me into little pieces. It’s been a very long time since a book captured me so completely, since a book and its characters felt so real and perfect that I could almost swear they weren’t fiction. That I actually felt like I was living beside them.
The back-cover blurb seems to focus a little more on the love/relationship side of things, but really, the book primarily focused on everything outside the already-unusual romance. It talked about divorce and its effects on the parents who split. It talked about the effects of divorce on kids, and about kids having to bounce back and forth between parents. It talked about remarriages and the consequences both on the parents and the children. It talked about mental illnesses and how the people around a person with a mental illness are affected. It talked about homelessness, about family makeup, about the connection between creative genius and insanity, about duty and freedom, about responsibility and dreams, about the insincerity of adopting a past to suit your needs, about the way that a troubled past can continue to haunt a person for decades. This was barely young adult. It is deserving of future-classic status.
My thoughts are spinning. When I finished reading Wild Roses a few hours ago, I was so ripped apart and emotionally torn that I had trouble adjusting back to my own life – it’s that good.
I could talk about a million things here, but I’m going to focus on a couple things that affected me personally. The first involves mental illnesses, especially unmedicated mental illnesses. It’s pretty clear through the book that while Dino is diagnosed with “depression,” his illness is much more serious than that. I’m not a psychologist, but he sounds very schizophrenic to me – paranoid, delusional, that sort of thing. But even before he got off his meds, he was a complete jerk. Cassie’s parents divorced a little more than three years before the start of the book, and her mom remarried within days of finalizing the divorce. Dino has never treated either one of them well, though he tends to be nicer to his wife than his stepdaughter. This made me angry…but I’ll get to that when I get to the second thing I want to discuss. About mental illnesses. Cassie said something that really struck me:
His depression seemed like a luxury.
In other words, he had the time, money, position, and power to indulge his illness. And, I suppose, the selfishness. He goes off his meds only because he thinks he can compose better that way. He’s willing to sacrifice his wife and stepdaughter, not to mention his sanity, in order to compose. I have to agree in some ways – that does seem like a luxury. I have bipolar disorder, but I have a family to take care of. I could never do what that man did. It’s hard. I have to work every day to try to contain my illness so I don’t have an episode when I’m supposed to be taking care of my kids, for example, but I work. It’s not always easy, and I’m not always great, but I work hard, because this is my family, and knowing that, knowing what it feels like to create – I have been writing since I was 5 years old; I do know what it’s like to hunger for my creations – having this almost intimate mental connection to Dino’s character made me just hate him for how terrible he was. He was a supreme bastard. No one should ever sacrifice their family like that, I don’t care how much of a genius they are. This book opened up my eyes so much with regards to the tortured geniuses of the past – authors, artists, composers, musicians. It talks about what happens to their families, and the people around them taking care of them, the almost untold stories (I’m impressed with all the research Caletti must have done, btw). It’s horrible.
And that leads me to the second thing I want to discuss: Cassie’s mother’s unbelievable selfishness. The more I read, the angrier I got with that woman. She was willing to put her daughter into harm’s way in order to stay with this guy. No parent should do that. If they’re so selfish they want to stay with a jerk who is hurting them (mentally, physically, emotionally, whatever), they ought to give their kids to someone who is willing to take care of them properly! I know that sounds harsh, and I don’t mean to say I didn’t sympathize with her to a certain degree – Caletti does a good job showing Mom’s side of the story, too, and why she stuck it out for so long – but I can’t help my feelings here. Parents have a duty to their kids. The kids should not have to worry about or take care of their parents. They don’t need to witness the sorts of stuff Cassie witnessed. Thankfully, Cassie’s mom seemed to understand this by the end of the book. The end was bittersweet, mixed, very real.
My own parents divorced at the same time that Cassie’s did (14 years old). That made it very easy to connect with her, as she talked about swinging from one house to another, having multiple Christmases and birthdays, always having to watch what she said to one parent about another, never feeling like she had a place to call home. Divorce happens, and it sucks when it does, but I know that it’s inevitable sometimes. There is no answer there. There’s no way to make it easier on the parents or the kids, and Caletti doesn’t offer one. That was so honest; I can’t say how honest and real this book felt. I don’t know what else I can say. It’s splendid. Beautiful. A couple people have asked me what’s a good first YA book to read – this would be an excellent choice.