(review originally posted on my livejournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com/15393.html)
This baby was released back in 2009 and got all kinds of buzz on the YA blogosphere. I've seriously read nothing but wonderful things about this novel (and even some of the more negative reviews just gave it a mediocre rating -- never anything that deemed this a BAD book) and its sequel, Where She Went. So, while I was at the library a couple of weeks ago picking up All the Windwracked Stars, I decided to pick this up as well because a) I knew I would want something relatively easy to read after reading a Bear novel and b) re: I've been meaning to read this for ages *anyway* and c) it's short.
Anywho, this novel certainly deserves all the heaps of praise it has received even if its nowhere to being a perfect novel. Despite little misgivings I had though, which I'll get to in a second, I loved this book to pieces and would very much like to own it and read the sequel as soon as I can. :)
Spoilers behind the cut, so proceed with caution!!
All right, so. This novel starts out innocently enough. Mia, our protag, and her family decide to go on a little jaunt one morning after the schools are closed due to some snowfall. In this starting chapter, we're introduced to Mia's loving, seriously music-oriented family. From the get-go, you can tell they're all a lovable bunch, from the ex-rock star dad, to ex-groupie (but not in a gross way) Mom, to the drumming little eight-year brother and classical music-loving Mia (who feels a teensy bit out of place in the rock-and-roll family.) You can tell right away that they're a close-knit family, and Forman paints a very pretty and almost ideal picture.
Then, out of nowhere, they all die. Horribly. Mia is the only one left alive, though she's comatose. Her soul (or whatever you choose to call it) floats around invisible to everyone and watches the entire aftermath of the car crash that takes her family. The description in this chapter, of Mia finding her parents, was seriously gut-wrenching. The writing is very serene, which is obviously strange to read, consider what's going on, but it really gets across the sense that what's happening doesn't feel like it's happening to Mia. She observes her surroundings (such as her father's brains strewn about) with an eerie calmness, until she realizes just what's happening to her.
The rest of the novel is Mia's spirit walking around observing people who come to see her at the hospital and then flashbacks usually pertaining to these people. The focus is on her family and her boyfriend Adam though, who she has been sort of at odds with before the events that transpire at the beginning of the book.
Now, I mentioned that I had some gripes with this novel. Thinking back, I think I only really have one, and it's something that's more based off personal tastes than an actual flaw in the novel. See, I found the writing kind of... I don't know. I don't want to say purple prose because that's not quite it, but there was something a little melodramatic about it, for my tastes. It was beautiful for the most part, but other times it felt a bit like a Lifetime movie, if you get my drift.
However, despite this, this novel still hit me HARD at times. I've read several reviews where the reviewers admitted to crying. I had a feeling I would too (I'm the hugest wuss EVER -- it takes very little to make me cry and I'm made fun of for it constantly), but then I decided that I wouldn't (re: writing a little too dramatic for my tastes.) But then we get to the chapter where Mia found out Teddy (her little brother) has definitely died (when his body was found after the crash he was in a comatose state like Mia). OH MY GOD YOU GUYS!!! So, then I started to blubber a little bit. THEN, Mia has a flashback about when her brother was born, and how she practically raised him and was like a second mother to him. That's when the water works started. I cried 2-3 more times after that.
So, despite the writing being a little over-wrought at times, it was obviously doing *something* right, even if I am a giant wuss.
The focus on family was really nice, as family is something that isn't touched on as much in YA fiction as I would sometimes like. A lot of the time, parents are whisked away to give room for the teenagers to do whatever they want, which is also fine, but I love seeing some family dynamics in books that are solely dysfunctional. Mia's family isn't perfect of course (her parents were a little crazy in their youth), but they're awesome nonetheless. They're a little quirky without falling into stereotypes, and overall well-rounded characters. Mia's feeling of not-belonging (because of her love for classical music as opposed to rock like her parents and brother) rang true throughout the novel, and I liked that she didn't brood on it TOO much. She never gives her parents grief over it, because she also recognizes how incredibly supportive they are of her as well.
The other focus of the novel, Mia and her relationship with her boyfriend Adam, was also very touching and realistic. They have a timid friendship to begin with, then it becomes a romance, and then things get a little shaky when the two start to grow up and realize that they might not be on paths that are heading in the same direction. At times, in the "honey moon phase" of their relationship, Adam seemed a little TOO perfect (some of the things Adam does for Mia are just... not things that boys his age would do, no matter how sweet they are), but he was still incredibly likable all the same and never got to be annoyingly perfect.
The focus on music throughout the story was also nicely done. I'm not a music fanatic (I mean, I love music, but it's not my life like it is for some people, you know?) but Mia, Adam and her parents' passion for music really shone through in this novel.
The ending of the novel felt right, even though it does leave a lot of things hanging. There's no kind of epilogue where we find out what happens to Mia now that she's an orphan, nor do we find out the aftermath of her and Adam's relationship and where they stand. However, like I mentioned above, there is a sequel titled Where She Went that answers these questions. After reading this, I really can't wait to get a chance to read it (which will hopefully be soon!)
Final Verdict: Yeah, this novel is a little overwrought at times, but I mean, look what it's about! Of course it's going to be a little melodramatic, and even though I had that little quip, I still liked this novel to pieces. It's beautiful, it's gut-wrenchingly sad and it painted a family of characters that I grew to really care for. It's a sad novel, with a dash of hope (though it's very, very slim). Despite finding the prose a little too purply at times, it is really beautiful at many more parts as well. I can't wait to get my hands on the sequel and I'll definitely be looking out for more works by this novel in the future. :)