Going into this book, I knew it would be sad. It has the subject heading “grief – fiction” for crying out loud, plus I’d read several reviews before ordering it for the library and that gave me a heads up. But sometimes I’m just in the mood for a tear-jerker, so I picked it up and waited to see what would be so devastating.
The first half of the book is the story of a family dealing with the usual upsets of life, with the added hurdle of running a family restaurant. Narrator Fern feels like the invisible one, her older brother hasn’t come out but they all know he’s gay, oldest girl Sara is taking a year off before college, and three-year-old Charlie is, as always, dirty and sticky and looking for affection.
When things go wrong for the family, Knowles writing felt like it tightened up. Each person blames themselves for what happened, and they have to figure out how to go on. The sadness never felt maudlin – it was always sharp and painful and vivid. Although the sadness in the story is specific to this particular incident, I always think that good tear-jerkers evoke a universal sort of grief. This may not be your tragedy, but if the emotions ring true, you are put in the character’s shoes. Their grief and any grief you hold get mixed together.
This isn’t an easy book to read, but I think it fits well into that canon of children’s books that do this sort of thing well. It made me think of both Bridge to Terabithia and A Summer to Die – books with very different plots but a similar ability to call up emotion.
Source: my public library