One of the things that draws me to young adult books is their handling of serious issues. When I saw this title dealing with both depression/suicide and the search for roots and answers to family secrets, I was intrigued. The Astonishing Color of After handled both beautifully. Leigh's search for answers and connection to the Taiwanese grandparents she never knew after her mother's death is a painful one that reaches no easy answers but still ends with hope and an implied sense that healing can finally begin.
I picked up this book because I had liked The Chocolate Money by the same author. Norton has a talent for brutal honesty, holding back nothing about her protagonists’ motives and thoughts. In The Chocolate Money we witness the fraught relationship a privileged young woman has with her eccentric heiress mother.
In this novel, Marie, a young mother, is a server at an upscale Dallas restaurant. Some nights the tips border on phenomenal. Yet, she is slowly suffocating under a great, sorrowful blanket of depression. She exists, she suffers, she endures acts of degradation and abuse from men on the off chance that occasionally she will experience something other than sadness and pain. Her daughter is a buoy that she lets go of to sink back into the nasty muck. Love Me Back holds no happy ending, no redemption.
Fans of E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars will find another intriguing, mysterious novel in Meg Wolitzer’s Belzhar. The book is predominantly set at The Wooden Barn, a boarding school for intelligent but emotionally unstable teens. When Jamaica “Jam” Gallahue transfers to The Wooden Barn after the unexpected death of her boyfriend, she is automatically enrolled in the elite, highly selective course Special Topics in English.
William Styron was already an accomplished, award-winning author by the mid-1980s when he suffered a devastating episode of clinical depression.
Books that don’t match their descriptions are extremely annoying, and this one especially so. The book jacket says, “It is extremely funny, but the African beach scene is horrific.” And the beach scene really is exceedingly horrific. Unfortunately, the comic relief I was led to expect never followed. I failed to be even slightly amused by this story of Little Bee, a Nigerian refugee, whose life becomes entangled with a vacationing English couple.