But as Kara’s friendship pulls Olivia out of the dark fog she’s been living in, Olivia realizes that a different kind of darkness taints the otherwise lively Hallas women—an impulse that is strange, magical, and possibly deadly.”
I loved this. So much. It’s been a while since a book has made me think twice and subverts all manners of expectations. Trigger warnings for death of a child, drug overdose, addiction, and murder.
1. The characters. This book follows Olivia, a 16-year-old girl living in the suburbs with her mother and father. The story kicks off with new neighbors (Kara, the daughter, Rhea, the mother, and Sybil, the grandmother) moving in across the street who turn out to be a little removed from ‘normal’. We also have a bit of a love interest in the other teenage character, Prescott, who also lives right down the street. The three teenagers (Olivia, Kara, and Prescott) form their own little cadre as the book progresses which really showcased each of their personalities. Olivia, the somewhat shy risk-taker, Kara, bold and reckless, and Prescott, measured and seemingly perfect. Seeing them all interact together was really interesting and, like I said, showcased their personalities marvelously. By the end especially, I felt so connected with Olivia and felt her devastation with her. Sparing a moment for Kara, what a character! She definitely brings some weirdness to the story (more about this later) and pushes along scenes that otherwise might drag. Prescott is a little more flat in the I’m-perfect-but-not-really-because-everyone-has-high-expectations kind of way.
“We kept breathing and talking and eating and beating. But we stopped living the day Robby died.”
2. The plot. Essentially, without getting into too many spoilers, when Kara’s family moves into the neighborhood and Kara begins to hang out with Olivia, the train really gets rolling. Kara writes letters to men on death row (she says it’s for money but honestly, do we really believe her?) and Olivia, who has been dealing with the death of her brother (she played a key role in his death), is drawn to this part of Kara. It brings on this whole discussion of the types of death in our society and who is worthy of life and who we are allowed to murder as a society which I found intriguing. There are so many different layers of mystery that are continually uncovered. Why did Prescott pull away from Olivia? Why is Olivia’s mom bedridden? Where does Olivia’s father go after work? Why is Kara’s family so strange? All of these questions are answered to varying degrees at varying points and they all build on each other. You can tell the author thought everything through carefully and orchestrated each scene and each plotline to reveal something important for the rest. There’s also a bit of magical realism related to Kara and while normally I tend to dislike magical realism, I felt it really worked here. There’s a scene near the end (for those who have read it, think birth) that was a stretch for me but otherwise, I think it worked very well.
“We all died that day, in the pool in the yard. We were buried, and filled in, and covered up, and forgotten. We were lost. And we’ve been dead ever since.”
3. The romance. I’ll warn y’all right now, there is a love triangle in this! There are so many polarizing feelings about love triangles and generally, I fall more on the I-like-them-if-they’re-done-well category. They can be great tension builders and fantastic ways to get characters into different situations. I do think this love triangle was a little unnecessary. Olivia is a teenager and most teenagers are preoccupied with love but honestly, there was so many other interesting things happening it just felt like something else. It did add an interesting layer to their cadre moments but overall, I don’t think it adds a ton. However, it is twisted slightly as there’s kind of two happening with one of the characters. I’ll leave it there because nobody likes spoilers! Bottom line, this is really up to personal taste and for me, it was nice, but not the best.
“I think anyone is capable of love, but broken people love in broken ways.”
4. The themes. I feel like I need to do a section on this because OH MY GOODNESS SO MANY. Legitimately. This is a good thing, don’t worry. Some authors have a tendency to smash you over the head with the ‘moral of the story’ and that isn’t happening here. There are so many small conversations happening over the course of the book that really add up to something truly lovely. As I mentioned above, there’s the conversation about death and who, as a society, we’ve deemed okay to murder. There’s also a discussion of grief and the stages of grief and how the world sees you when you’re grieving. A little thread of self-ownership and accepting yourself and your life also makes an appearance. Overall, this was my absolute favorite part.
“Olivia would shrink from truth, from the pain of knowing. But a Resurrection Girl shrank from nothing.”
5. The writing. All I have to say here is beautiful. Just gorgeous. I highlighted so many quotes throughout that I couldn’t possibly include all of them. Personally, I love a bit of poetry and this author employed some of the techniques common in poetry that really make the prose flow and sound especially beautiful when read aloud.
“And I wondered what made risk takers so attractive to the rest of us. Was it that we knew they could be ripped from our presence at any moment, an unfortunate victim of karma finally catching up with them?”
The Final Verdict:
A fascinating conversation about life, death, and grief, wrapped up in magical realism.