And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky
Rating: R; 3 1/2 stars
Summary: Keek is going through the biggest change in her life: parents splitting up, massive fight with her boyfriend, best friend betraying her. And on top of it all, she has the chicken pox. And she's stuck at her grandmother's internet-free house while her mom is out of state with Keek's aunt, who just had a baby very prematurely. So yeah, Keek's life sucks. But you know what, she's determined to work through it. With the help of an ancient typewriter borrowed from her grandmother and the immortal words of Sylvia Plath, Keek will emerge from the summer as a stronger person.
Opinions: To start off, you know a book has a unique voice when you start to write the review in that voice. Often, as I'm reading, I start to “write” the review in my head. If it's convenient for me to start actually writing it down then, I do. Otherwise, it sits in my head for another time. So while reading this book, my head was filled with snippets from how I would review it, all done in Keek's snarky, fresh voice. I didn't even realize this at first, but then I realized that it was quite a feat: the voice was so different and memorable that I integrated it into my own writing without realizing it. Kudos to the author on voice.
As a note of warning, I don't typically read books in this genre (contemporary YA). In general, I prefer to read things set in times-that-were or worlds-that-aren't. That isn't to say I don't like contemporary YA; if I had time to read everything in the world, I would. I just generally reach for something else first. However, when I found out about this book, I immediately wanted it. This is mostly for three reasons. First, Keek is a writer. In my opinion, there are too few books about teen writers. This is a shame, since my guess is that the vast majority of teen writers are also teen readers. We're missing out on a valuable opportunity here! Second, Sylvia Plath is a pretty major part of the novel. I really like Plath's poetry. I'll admit that I haven't read it all, nor do I know individual pieces by title, but what I've read, I like. And she's not an element of much YA at all. Finally, I thought the premise behind this novel was really interesting. The entire novel takes place while Keek has the chicken pox and can do nothing but lie in bed with a typewriter on her lap. It's such a brilliant, self-contained idea with so much potential. And I'm happy to say that it really lived up to that potential.
The characters in this book were so unique and quirky and well-developed. Voice, again, is a huge part of this. But it certainly isn't the only part. Take, for example, Keek's grandma. I expected Keek's grandma to be a really bitter old lady—no technology and all, but she really, totally wasn't. Which is amazing, because the bitter old person stereotype is way too overdone. Instead, Keek's gram was a snarky, wise old lady. She weathered Keek's emotional storms with the non-judgmental finesse of someone who has been there before. She was probably one of my favorite characters in the book.
There were other quirks, too, that really drew me to the book. Keek has a habit of saying “sofa king” instead of “so f*****g,” which, in my opinion, is really clever. The first few times, I did wonder if it was a typo, but then it's explained in the context of the story, so it's all good.
I will say that this book has quite a bit of swearing (sofa kings included), and also some sexual content. That's why I rated it R. But please don't let that deter you; this really is an awesome book. It's not the best I've read, but for an end-of-summer book, it's perfectly fluffy, and not quite as light as it seems like it'll be. Keek learns some hard truths through the course of the novel.
In short, this is an awesome little book that should be read. It isn't for everyone, but neither is the fantasy that I typically read (and review).