It’s Christmas break after Marin’s first semester at college. She’s not going home. She doesn’t have a home to go to. Her grandfather, who raised her, passed away right before she left for school, and nothing she had in her old life feels real. Now her best friend from that old life, Mabel, is coming to visit her, after months of Marin ignoring calls and texts as she struggles to cope with grief, secrets, and personal identity.
Well. Tiktok has officially influenced my book-life for the first time. I follow a particular library on TT, and they recommended this book for some reason or another (I don’t even remember which list it was part of!). I recognized the author, so went to look it up. Back in 2009, I read Hold Still by Nina LaCour, a book that (I think?) I got from the ALA Conference that I attended in Chicago with a librarian friend. I was impressed by LaCour’s handling of a delicate subject in such a nuanced way, without it being overly angsty (like many YA books) or overly stuffy (like many adult literary books). LaCour has had a few other books out since then, but they were in years when I wasn’t really reading a lot of YA, so I didn’t pay much attention. I’m glad I did with this one, though, because my second experience with her writing was just as good.
Grief is so much more complicated than we make it out to be, and Marin’s grief is further complicated by the circumstances surrounding her grandfather’s death. I’ll be honest: I kept expecting some kind of dramatic plot twist – that Marin wasn’t actually his grandchild, and was kidnapped, or something of that kind – but in real life, “twists” can be very subtle things. Twists are just changes in perspective, altering how you view a person, subject to interpretation and emotionally charged. This is what I mean when I say LaCour’s writing is nuanced. Marin’s grief is real-world grief that comes at a natural time of upheaval in a person’s life (leaving home for school, living on your own for the first time, a giant change in your social world, etc). It becomes a pressure-cooker for mental health problems, and Marin’s method of coping – cutting herself off from everyone and everything she ever knew – is as realistic as it is unhealthy.
This is not a fast-paced book with big surprises or extreme redemption or perfect answers. What it provides instead is real insight, kind and unkind humans, a reevaluation of the meaning of family, an honest look at the ugly side of depression and mental illness, and an ending that gave me bittersweet tears. It was beautiful.