All her knowledge is gone now. Everything she ever learned, or heard, or saw. Her particular way of looking at Hamlet or daisies or thinking about love, all her private intricate thoughts, her inconsequential secret musings – they’re gone too. I heard this expression once: Each time someone dies, a library burns. I’m watching it burn right to the ground.I loved Nelson's I'll Give You the Sun, so I added this to my stockpile of nursing reads before giving birth. Nelson seems drawn to tragedy; this novel centers around the sudden death of Lennie's sister, Bailey, and charts Lennie's progression through both her grief and her first brush with romance. In true YA fashion, her two love interests are the New Kid in Town (a French musician with an infectious smile), and her dead sister's boyfriend (tall, dark, brooding...).
Nelson does (slightly melodramatic) teen-in-crisis internality well. Lennie's deluge of emotions are believably laid out, and even her most outrageous behaviors--almost sleeping with her sister's boyfriend!-- have an internal logic that makes them understandable. She also has a supporting cast of delightfully odd family members who make the book a little more interesting than your standard YA drama, including an uncle focused on reviving dead bugs and plants with scale replicas of Mayan ruins while embarking on marriage number six and a grandma who paints only green women and whose roses are famous for making people fall in love.
Along with an engaging inner monologue, Nelson also gives us a series of poems, scattered throughout the novel, that Lennie has written on scraps of paper and backs of napkins and abandoned. These are mostly snippets of memories of her sister--conversations they had as they fell asleep, ruminations on grief. Some of them are unimpressive teenage drivel, but some of them make up the best writing in the book. As a device for building up the sister as a character and for showcasing their relationship, it could have fallen flat, but it works.
Overall, this was a great YA venture. It was a little white and a little heteronormative (a disappointment after Nelson's last novel), but it was emotionally engaging and well done. I'll be adding it to my classroom library in the fall!