Title: 34 pieces of You
Author: Carmen Rodrigues
Publisher: Simon Pulse
May Contain Spoilers
A dark and moving novel—reminiscent of Thirteen Reasons Why—about the mystery surrounding a teenage girl’s fatal overdose.
There was something about Ellie…Something dangerous. Charismatic. Broken. Jake looked out for her. Sarah followed her lead. And Jess kept her distance—and kept watch.
Now Ellie’s dead, and Jake, Sarah, and Jess are left to pick up the pieces. All they have are thirty-four clues she left behind. Thirty-four strips of paper hidden in a box beneath her bed. Thirty-four secrets of a brief and painful life.
Jake, Sarah, and Jess all feel responsible for what happened to Ellie, and all three have secrets of their own. As they confront the past, they will discover not only the darkest truths about themselves, but also what Ellie herself had been hiding all along….
If I hadn’t received a review copy of 34 Pieces of You from the publisher, I never would have read this book, and that would have been a shame, because it is a moving and compelling read. The subject matter didn’t appeal to me prior to receiving the ARC, and the thought of reading about a girl who overdoses, leaving her friends to grapple with their confusion and hurt, just seemed too depressing for me. Which makes me wonder why I did pick it up, the same day it arrived in the mailbox. Why did I start reading this, and why couldn’t I put it down? What I found between the covers kept me turning the pages; there are so many flawed characters packed into this story, and there were so many opportunities for things to happen differently, but they didn’t. Everyone is so caught up in themselves, that they all ignored the signals that Ellie was so clearly broadcasting. Then again, in retrospect, everything is crystal clear, isn’t it?
I don’t want to give away any of the plot twists, so instead, let’s talk about the damaged protagonists in 34 Pieces of You. It seems that everyone in this book is crying out for help or attention, and even when they get it, they stubbornly dig in their heels and refuse to accept it. Ellie is so emotionally ravaged, unable to trust anyone, after she is the victim of abuse when she is a young girl. Her mother deals with this betrayal with alcohol. Emotionally distant from her children, her coping method turns out to be one of avoidance. Just don’t talk about it, and everything bad will go away. Just ignore the bad things, and everything will be fine. Ugh. I found myself so angry and irritated with her mother. By pretending not to see how self-destructive Ellie’s behavior was, she added to Ellie’s feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness. Even her own mother didn’t care enough to acknowledge that things weren’t right with her family. It’s the realization that if only someone had done something, paid the slightest bit of attention to Ellie’s behavior, that makes this story, and the cascading repercussions, so tragic. Ellie may have ultimately found some peace, but her friends and family were left reeling in the wake of her death, and ouch, not one of them emerged unscathed or unchanged.
Jake, Ellie’s older brother, is left with the most guilt, I think. After being the rock for his mother and sister in the wake of his mother’s string of failed relationships, he finally is able to experience the enticing sense of freedom that comes with going off to college. No longer the man of the family, he can finally do what he wants, when he wants, without all of the drama and pressure that he’s constantly under at home. When Ellie calls him, begging him to come home to her, he is resentful. Why can’t he just go to school and be left alone? Why does he have to get sucked back into all of the drama? A moment of selfishness will haunt him for the rest of his life, and of all of lives affected by Ellie’s carelessness, Jake’s is the most compelling. He can’t hide from his guilt, and like Ellie, he doesn’t have much of a support network to help him cope. I wish Jake’s chapters had been longer and more in-depth. I liked Jake, and felt that his POV was complex and multi-layered, because he was under so much pressure to be strong for everyone else.
Sisters Sarah and Jessie also had complex relationships with Ellie, and each other, and as the story unfolds, they are both forced to realize that neither of them knew Ellie half as much as they thought they had. All of the characters in this book are flawed, and at first, hard to like. I couldn’t relate to any of them, but as one painful secret after another is revealed, I began to feel sympathy for each of them. Events were so out of control, it was like everyone was riding a rollercoaster with broken brakes. The more you fight against the impact at the end of the ride, the more you tense up and the more it’s going to hurt. Despite all of the pain, the ending manages to capture a sense of hopefulness, and the realization that some how, some way, things might just turn out okay. But only for the characters willing to set aside their fears to embrace the uncertain future waiting ahead of them.
In stores Sept 2012
Review copy provided by publisher