This is the book for people with truly big hearts¹.
¹ Metaphorically speaking, of course, because in the words of warning from Dr. Sheldon Cooper, PhD (of The Big Bang Theory fame):
Penny: Ah, I always tear up when the Grinch's heart grows three sizes.
Sheldon: Tears seem appropiate. Enlargement of the heart muscle, or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, is a serious disease which can lead to congestive heart failure.
This is a book about finding your way back after having lost yourself in the depths of grief. It is the story of people who desperately try and often fail to hold their lives together.
"I know this sounds cruel, Georgie," Lucia says, "but grieving people are selfish. They won't let you comfort them and they say you don't understand and they make you feel *useless* when all your life you've been functional to them."
It is an emotional book, full of raw and exposed feelings. It is flowing with melancholy which gives way to anger which in turn gives way to love and hope just to swing back into the tender melancholy again. It is a book about people broken by their grief, who now have to come to terms with it and learn how to live as whole beings again. It is tender and touching, and quite lovely. With a healthy helping of angst, I must admit.
"Her voice whispering love soothes him. They'd never done that before. Weren't that type of family. Except now he doesn't know what kind of family they are. What word is it that can define them? What would they call his family in the textbooks? Broken? He comes from a broken home. The Mackees can't be put back together again. There are too many pieces of them missing."
Now, this lovely Melina Marchetta book *barely* missed the 4-star designation for me. Barely. Maybe because I've been calloused by life at this point. Maybe because I feel a little too old to fully accept the amount of angst that it has. Maybe because at times I felt like reaching into this book and very gently shaking the characters to their senses. And maybe because despite the ever-present melancholy I kept having this nagging feeling that somehow everything will magically turn out to be alright, even though to sustain the emotional protracted gut-punching it should not have. But 3.5 stars I gave it are well-earned, and for me Marchetta is becoming a writing force to be reckoned with.
"She knows that feeling too. Of believing that each time someone says her name, it’s to tell her that something bad has happened."
If the above quote did not make you sadly sigh, you must be a robot. Or an incredibly happy-go-lucky person.
The part of this book that I loved and would be happy to give at least 4 stars to was the part with Georgie - a 42-year-old mother-to-be, caught in a sticky situation of carrying the baby (which she did not want for the reasons of her own) of a man who has betrayed her in the past. All while trying to get over the grief of losing her little brother - and, to a point, her twin brother as well. Georgie is a lovely character - both strong and vulnerable, sometimes unreasonable and petty, at other times amazing with the amount of generosity in her heart and soul. She felt real to me, and for most of her story I wanted to reach into the book's pages and give her the most sincere hug.
The part that cost this book quite a few of its stars was Georgie's nephew Tom, the other narrative voice, who appears to be more of a protagonist of this story than Georgie does. He is lonely and broken and lost and a mess and sensitive and misunderstood and all that stuff that is supposed to make my girly heart swoon at his vulnerability. Unfortunately, I tend to agree with this quote quite a bit:
"Tom could probably count on the hands of every member of his family, and extended family, and the city of Sydney, how many times he's felt like a dick this year."
More than anything, this book is the story of Tom's redemption and him finding his real self again after a trying couple of years of his life. But I found it hard to feel for him. Wallowing in his own despair, he seemed to be so hell-bent on being a jerk to anyone who dared to show any love for him that I decided to not open my heart to him - and that was surprisingly easy. I just think that the excuse of being a jerk because of your own misery only takes you so far, and that Tom was incredibly lucky to have a group of friends that for whatever reasons did not give up on him. They must have had bigger hearts than mine.
"He kisses her and wants to beg her and the others to never give up on him. *Ever*. But he gets a feeling that he would be preaching to the converted."
3.5 stars from my calloused heart. I have not read the prequel to this one, Saving Francesca, but I will definitely look for it now. Melina Marchetta is a good writer, and I'm looking forward to more of her books full of heart and humor and always quite a bit of sadness.
"Once she made him watch Pride and Prejudice and for ages he would re-word Mr Bingley's apology to Jane Bennet, saying, 'I've been an inexplicable fool', for anything from losing his keys to burping out loud. Her reply to anything she wanted to do was Jane Bennet's response to Bingley's marriage proposal, 'A thousand times yes.'