A sensitive 13-year-old boy copes with his mother’s sudden death in Jacobs’ debut YA novel.
When Cole Atwater was a small child, his mother, a mysterious, creative, and loving woman, frequently took him on long walks through local cemeteries, where she tidied gravesites and sketched pictures of tombstones. Cole, now a teenager, once found his mother’s habits “creepy,” yet he finds himself imitating them after her death in a car accident. Alienated from his grieving father, he spends part of every week alone in the cemetery. His routine is interrupted when he starts to find handmade, cryptic messages surrounding her grave. With the aid of his girlfriend, Liz, he tries to figure out where the messages are coming from, but his life is further jarred by the entrance of his father’s new girlfriend, an artist named Meg Brownstone. This short book is more of a lyrical novella than a fully developed novel, and seems more interested in building a mournful mood than it is in developing a standard mystery plot. Cole is reflective and romantically committed to a degree that strains credibility for a 13-year-old. That said, his thoughts are still enjoyable to read. A longer book might have allowed for more development of other characters, though, which would have served it well. Cole’s mother, for example, remains more of a cipher than a fully realized person, Liz has few traits beyond her quirky eating habits and refined manner of speech, and Meg, who’s central to the book’s third act, is barely described. Cole’s tendency to muse results in prose that’s sometimes beautiful and at other times overwritten. Excessively long sentences are frequent; one begins, “And that was always reason enough, like my father, to drink just one more beer—even though I never could quite finish one entirely, before it grew warm and sickening—as I huddled underneath her favorite down comforter, Coldplay trying its best to lull me to sleep, my father completely oblivious in the room across the hall from mine,” and then continues for several more clauses.
A promising novel that falls short due to its overreliance on atmosphere instead of conventional character development.