I don’t know. There’s more to say, of course, much more. Two years is a long time in a short life, especially when you’re in high school. But that’s not the Rose anybody wants to read about, is it? Tragedy is infinitely more interesting than bliss. That’s the allure of self-destruction. Or so I’ve found.
—When I Am Through With You, by Stephanie Kuehn
Ben Gibson, high school senior, started dating Rose Augustine when they were both sophomores:
“Do you have a girlfriend?” Rose asked again.
“No,” I said.
“Well, now you do.”
Now, after a school camping trip gone horribly, horribly wrong, Rose is dead and Ben is locked up. When I Am Through With You is their story according to him, from the beginning—with a whole lot of detours along the way. Their story as he tells it is a slow build—but when everything goes to hell, EVERYTHING REALLY GOES TO HELL. My eyes popped and my jaw dropped.
Before I get into talking about the book itself, I feel that this needs to be reiterated: Anyone who is still on the I Turn My Nose Up At YA Literature, I Only Read Adult Literature train has clearly never read Stephanie Kuehn. Her books would be right at home in the Adult Literary Fiction subcategory, and I rather suspect that if you covered all markers of imprint and publisher and flap copy and handed this book to a LitFic fan, they wouldn’t know the difference.
I continue to find it interesting that her books are published as YA; while they feature teen characters, they generally have a more adult feel, with perspectives that rely on longheld memories—sometimes misty, sometimes crystal-clear—that feel informed by time and life experience. I hope it’s obvious that none of that is to say that there’s some sort of Quality Hierarchy of YA Lit vs. Adult Lit—but I see them as dealing with different stages of life, and Kuehn’s books tend to fall on the older end.
ANYWAY. On to the actual book, which is entirely enthralling and horrifying and fascinating and totally—to be blunt—depressing. Or, well, that was MY reaction to it—I loved it, but it sent me into an emotional tailspin for the rest of the day. It also made me want to re-watch River’s Edge. Which, if you know River’s Edge, is saying… well, it’s saying something.
Beyond the mystery and the core relationships at the foundation—both of which would have been rich and solid enough to carry the book on their own—it plays with and explores a whole lot more.
It plays with the outsider/townie relationship, in that a townie can hate where he’s from, but will become protective of it and resentful of outsiders who denigrate it.
It deconstructs and rebuilds and expands on character archetypes like the Manic Pixie Dream Girl and the Femme Fatale.
It looks at the myriad ways that family members hurt one another, how longterm abuse shapes our perspectives, informs our reactions, affects our understanding of every relationship we have.
It deals with how guilt and shame and abuse and resentment dovetail together until they’re almost impossible to separate.
It touches on race and gender and economic class and entitlement and how different people react to similar circumstances—some by constantly fighting those circumstances, some by embracing inertia, some by throwing themselves wholeheartedly into self-destruction.
It shows how capable people are of convincing themselves that the path they want to follow is the RIGHT path, even when they know, deep down, that it isn’t.
Read it. And then, if you haven’t, read the rest of her books.
In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom and The Backlist, is currently serving on the Amelia Bloomer Project committee, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.