Sit back in a comfortable chair, bring on the Kleenex and cry your heart out.
Seventh-grader Fern, in pitch-perfect present tense, relates the dual tragedies of her family. Her high school freshman older brother Holden has come to the place in his life where he’s acknowledged that he’s gay and is taking the first painful, unsteady steps out into a less-than-fully-accepting world. Fern offers him support and love, but what she can give is not always what he needs. Their older sister, Sara, spending a frustrating gap year after high school supposedly helping with the family restaurant, makes life hard for everyone with her critical eye and often unkind comments. And then there’s 3-year-old Charlie, always messy, often annoying, but deeply loved. Fern’s busy, distracted parents leave all of the kids wanting for more attention—until a tragic accident tears the family apart. The pain they experience after the calamity is vividly, agonizingly portrayed and never maudlin. Eventually there are tiny hints of brightness to relieve the gloom: the wisdom of Fern’s friend Ran, the ways that Sara, Fern and Holden find to support each other, and their thoughtfully depicted, ever-so-gradual healing as they rediscover the strength of family.
Prescient writing, fully developed characters and completely, tragically believable situations elevate this sad, gripping tale to a must-read level. (Fiction. 11 & up)