(review originally posted on my livejournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com/25928.html)
I picked up this book in September because a lot of my favorite bloggers have read and praised it highly (Nymeth from Things Mean A Lot and Ana from The Book Smugglers). It just sounded like the kind of book I would like, so when I was ordering some school books in September, I added it to my cart so I could get free shipping (two birds and one stone. :) )
I did wait awhile to read it, but when the 24-hour read-a-thon rolled around, I knew this would be the perfect book. It's length was just right, and it was the perfect excuse to finally read this much anticipated title. I'm so so glad I trusted my instincts and read this book; it's really fantastic.
I love books that are character-driven and I especially love stories about dysfunctional families (American Beauty is one of my all-time favorite movies, though that one's a bit on the extreme side) and this book delivers that in spades. Our protagonist, Frankie, has anxiety with some hypochondria on the side. He worries constantly about how things could go wrong. His mother listens to his anxieties every night, where she allows him to ask one question at 10pm. However, things change when Frankie strikes an unexpected friendship with the eccentric Sydney. As much as he likes spending time with her, her insatiable curiosity brings about questions about Frankie's family that he doesn't want to confront.
If I had to come up with one word to describe this book, it was would be "subtle". Or maybe "nuanced". Everything in this book happens very gradually, and it's there without being in your face. Yes, Frankie's mother has agoraphobia and won't leave the house, but you actually don't find that out right off the bat; it makes itself apparent subtly through the text, and if I didn't already know that about the book, I could picture myself having a moment of "OHH!!". Similarly, characterization and character growth comes gradually. My favorite example is Frankie's sister. At the beginning of the book I thought she was really annoying, but when the going gets tough and Frankie needs advice, she proves to be a supportive (in her own way) sister. I was especially impressed because de Goldi managed to do this without having her have a change of heart or anything; she's very much acting like herself and it feels organic, but it was a welcome revelation in her character as well.
This happened with almost all the aspects of the novel. Along with the gradual revelation of information and characterization, de Goldi presents a nuanced portrait of Frankie and Sydney's family. Sydney's mom is a bit of a "free-spirit" and maybe not the best mom in the world. Frankie finds himself vehemently hating her, but despite this, the text itself does not outright vilify her. Instead, Sydney turns the tables on Frankie and makes him look at HIS family situation more closely, making him realize he isn't really in a place to judge. The self-awareness of the text really impressed me, because at first, I really hated Sydney's mom too. But then I realized that I really had to take a step back and maybe think things over before jumping to conclusions and judging. I applaud a book that can do that.
The ending was perfect. Frankie's family situation is still far from perfect, but it's a start. It doesn't bring about any easy solutions, but it takes the first steps. There's even hints that maybe that's as many steps that will be taken, but Frankie has made so much growth at that point that I know he could handle anything that would come his way. Be able to even think of a character in terms of their future is also impressive, as really, these characters don't have a future; they're just characters. De Goldi made feel like they were real though.
Final Verdict: This book is amazing, and definitely one of my favorite reads of the year. It's a beautifully subtle character-driven novel that doesn't slap you in the face with the fact that it's a book about mental illness (and largely avoids being an "issue" book.) The characterization is equally gradual, creating very real characters that I became very attached to. The text itself is very self-aware and it made me take a step back and re-think how I felt about certain characters (one in particular), which really impressed me. I definitely recommend this to anyone who prefers character-driven over plot-driven novels, and someone who likes a quiet, but poignant read.