A gritty middle-grade story about suicide’s aftermath.
It has been a year since 11-year-old Kaia’s older brother, Moses, killed himself by slitting his wrists. It was Kaia who found him, and since that day she has been “frozen,” unable to move forward in her life—until she sees a mysterious, ragged boy in her school. The boy doesn’t speak, but he and Kaia become friends anyway, and he gradually leads her back to growth. With Kaia’s first-person narration, Avery paints an uncomfortable portrait of a child overcome by trauma, existing almost wholly within her damaged psyche. Readers may wonder at Kaia’s lack of external support—her mother is drinking herself into oblivion, her teacher exhibits not empathy but impatience, and her former friends ignore or bully her. Another off-key note is Kaia’s lack of anger toward Moses, who visits her in the guise of an angel. She seems to accept his suicide even as she can’t process it. It’s hard to tell whether the author is underscoring Kaia’s loose grip on reality or whether these are plot-credibility issues—the answer probably lies with individual readers. However, by the end of the story, everything wraps up pat, undercutting the story’s realism but providing welcome relief.
Save this disquieting tale for sophisticated readers who have a high tolerance for both ambiguity and distress. (Fiction. 10-13)