Book in Review: Me Since You by Laura Wiess7:29 AM
Author: Laura Weiss
Publisher: MTV Books
Publishing Date: February 18, 2014
Rating: 4/5 stars
Me Since You is a haunting, compelling book about a young woman and how one single moment paints her life in shades of grief and loss. The book is about Rowan Areno and her cop father, who are forced to deal with tragedy when a stranger’s decision to end his and his child’s life has a ripple effect on Rowan, her family, and Eli, the reluctant witness who is no stranger to loss himself.
Rowan Areno, the protagonist, is a naïve, sheltered sixteen year old girl.. Her life Before, with her apple-pie American family, ends when a stranger’s crime leaves her father crippled with depression. Ostracized by the entire town, Rowan struggles to find a balance between empathizing with her father in his sadness, and allowing herself to be happy. Rowan seeks an escape in the form of a relationship with Eli, who seems to be the only one who knows what she’s going through. Just as it starts to get better; it gets worse. Rowan’s father kills himself, and Rowan spirals down and shuts herself off from the world.
Me Since You was a very difficult book to read. It’s always hard to read stories about death, grief and recovery because it always hits too close to home. None of us has been untouched by death, whether it be a face in the newspapers or someone we loved, that the concept of human mortality often seems both fleeting and without importance; and heartbreaking and devastating in equal measures. Wiess manages to write a book that delves into the dark abyss of grief in such a realistic and poignant way.
Me Since You explores death, grief and heartbreak in such a deep and visceral way, as both recipient and observer. Wiess explores depression in an engaging, gritty manner. We experience it in several stages, first through Rowan’s father, as he tries to save a tortured man’s life, then through Rowan’s eyes, as she tiptoes around her father’s attempts to get better. It was very interesting and real for a book to explore depression as a real mental disease and not just adolescent melodrama. Watching Rowan’s father go through medication and therapy and yet ultimately decide to end his life, despite the presence of a loving and supporting family, was incredibly heartbreaking.
It was not easy for me to like Rowan; Rowan is the girl we all once were, when we thought ourselves invincible, merely an empathizer, and not a victim, of life. Her naiveté was both endearing and exasperating. Her decisions regarding her social life, especially the way she goes along with all of Nadia, her friend’s, plans, made me want to punch her in the face, most of the time. There is a distinct polarity in how Rowan acts; with her father, her careful tiptoeing seems excessive and tiring, but when with her peers she is dismissive and fleeting; it made it harder to understand her, especially in the face of her father’s depression. But her relationships with her parents and Eli ultimately redeemed her for me, as it peeled away the shallow-teenage-girl archetype she presented to the world. Rowan only ever acted like a real person when she was with her parents and Eli.
I liked the romance between Eli and Rowan; there was a sense of innocence and gentleness to their relationship that made me feel like they would have crossed paths regardless of the tragedy, that made me really root for them as a couple. Eli, his father, and his dog was actually one of my favorite parts of the book. Even the ephemeral nature of their budding relationship is bittersweet and poignant; when Rowan shuts herself off from the world, Eli takes a step back and gives her space. The romance is such a minimal aspect of the book, but that does not diminish the impact they have on each other, and how they help each other cope with loss.
Wiess is a brilliant in the ways that she successfully encompasses the grieving process. People heal in different ways, and experiencing Rowan’s emotional journey was cathartic. Wiess was tender and merciless, portraying the explosive nature of Rowan’s disbelief and anger in her heartbreaking letters to her father, In contrast, her mother lives in denial, choosing to bury herself in 123434556 stray cats than face the reality of her father’s death. It is only until their grandparents interfere that the duo stops floating in limbo and start to knit themselves back together again.
My criticisms with the book lie solely with the supporting characters, especially Nadia, Rowan’s best friend. I understand that Nadia is created as a foil to Rowan, but it almost seemed as if the author went out of her way to purposely make her awful. Everytime Nadia was in a scene, my desire to punch her in the face was jarring; my dislike for Nadia would take me out of Rowan’s head for a good fifteen minutes while I plotted her death.
Another issue with the book is the conclusion. One crucial plotline is how Rowan is haunted by the lack of a suicide note left by her father. It was unrealistic that Rowan be able to instantly heal after finding her father’s note. Death isn’t always explainable, there isn’t always closure, and I was expecting Wiess to go that route; allowing Rowan to realize that we might not always understand why things happen, but that we can move on despite the fact. That grief and death are hard things to deal with precisely because we cannot justify them, and that closure is something we find on our own terms. Finding the suicide note felt like a cop-out, and I felt that it was dismissive of the poignant tone of the rest of the book.
Overall, Me Since You was a gut-wrenching read, achingly raw and powerful in its portrayal of grief and death. Wiess refuses to treat these issues with kid gloves, instead charting these issues with the grace, sensitivity and gravitas warranted; and as such produces a thought-provoking, well-crafted novel that soars above its contemporaries.