As you most likely already know, Laurie Halse Anderson is best known for her novel Speak. Anderson likes to touch on tough subjects, but manages to pull it off with elegance. I was very much looking forward to reading this book. I picked it up at the bookstore, flipped it around in my hands, and gently set it back on the shelf more times that I should have after it came out a few months ago, but couldn’t bring myself to splurge on hardback. I knew it was most likely a book I was going to love (and I was right of course), but I just couldn’t bring myself to pay the $17 for it. So, I was elated when I found it at my library. There was no question of checking it out immediately. So home with me it came, temporarily anyway.
This book is about a girl, Haley, who has just settled down in the town she attended Kindergarten in after being on the road driving truck for the last few years. Hayley is now a senior in high school and sees the world through a very narrow lens. There are only two types of people: Freaks, the people who make a difference and have passion, and Zombies, everyone else just buzzing through life on autopilot and conforming to societal norms without question. Hayley is struggling with her classes, her new love interest, but most of all she is struggling with her dad’s PTSD and alcoholism that is a constant struggle for him after being deployed twice to the war in the middle east. Hayley must find a way to come to terms with all these things, how they are affecting her, and how she can work towards actively changing her view on life.
Now, Im going to give a bit of a warning here. This book touches on some very tough topics such as PTSD, war, depression, suicidal thoughts, and alcoholism. If any of these are going to be a trigger for you, I recommend that you don’t read this. Anderson writes about topics that are hard to deal with, and I don’t want you to put your personal health or well-being at risk to read this. Of course I want people to read this, but if you feel any of these topics might set you off, please keep yourself safe first.
So onto the review. Anderson has not disappointed. Her writing flows and is riddled with tension that will keep you gripping the edge of your seat wondering what will happen next. Her prose streams beautifully and is heartbreakingly wonderful. I also feel like it’s real. The ideas that she puts down on paper through words are so painstakingly real. She has a gift, and I am so glad (and honored) that I get to be a part of it.
This leads me to talk about the characters. I thought the characters were, like the writing, exceptionally real. Anderson puts together multi-dimensional humans with flaws that both do and do not define them. Each character is unique. It is hard to write varying characters when writing in first person, but Anderson is able to still get across exactly what makes each character distinctive and irreplaceable. I also felt like they were exceptionally teenage. By this I mean that they were believable characters for the age group that Anderson is writing. It is hard to be an adult and try to remember what it was like to be a teenager. But, Anderson, in my opinion, writes in the way that teenagers actually are. Her writing made me fall back into my high school years easily, so, I can only hope and imagine, that this is accepted well among teens.
Okay, that’s said. Now to continue on. I read many reviews by people who had issues with how these topics were handled, many saying that they were the cookie cutter outline. And, yes, I guess that is true, but many people don’t realize that to be in a situation like this is often very cookie cutter. I’ve been through my fair share of trials and tribulations, and most have been exceptionally cookie cutter. Which, should make everyone more unsettled because many times something is exactly what it looks like, but, especially as teens, we are afraid to speak up or acknowledge the problems. I felt that Anderson’s writing distinctly displayed what it is like to be a teen in heavy situations like this. It is so hard to get out of them, even if they are cookie cutter outlines.
I am in no way trying to say this in a way that takes away or attacks anyone’s unique personal experiences. I am not trying to take away from their or your issues. I am just glad that books on tough topics are becoming normal and widespread. Books like this have saved my life, and they definitely need to be in circulation. Laurie Halse Anderson needs to be in circulation. These topics are important, and she handles them beautifully.
I know this review has been really long. I’m a little bit sorry, but not completely. One final thing I want to talk about is the ending. It’s another thing that people were complaining about, saying it was too clique and too nicely wrapped. I disagree with that. I don’t want to ruin anything, so I’ll just say that things are still far from perfect at the end. It may seem like things are tying up nicely, but Hayley still talks about how things are a work in progress. PTSD, depression, and alcoholism are issues that require constant work and don’t simply go away, however unfair that may seem. Things will never be perfect for Hayley and she finally starts to accept that by the end. She also accepts back a part of herself that she had lost on her transition from childhood to young adult. Like, leave the poor girl alone; she deserves a bit of happiness after what she’s been through. Plus, she’s still terrified for her future. In one aspect this book wraps up nicely, but in another it’s still just a new beginning, and every new beginning is scary and uncertain.
One final comment. This book is incredibly feminist, and I loved that.
Whew, that’s all out on the table now. I was exceptionally passionate about this book, can you tell? I absolutely loved everything about it. I would definitely recommend this book to readers who love realistic YA fiction. Anderson is always worth the read, and her new book did not disappoint.