There are those times when you read a book and you're struck by the beauty of the writing so you sit there reading the words again and again, trying to figure out how that is. Most of the time when this happens the author is at least in their thirties and has some kind of degree in writing or some kind of experience, but this author is a teenager, she's still in high school, and that just blows my mind. A lot of writers think that to be successful, to be profound and deep and to resonate with the soul, you need to use big words and long sentences and complex ideas, but that's not true. This book, it's not overly fancy and pompous, the writing is simple but it still manages to have a sort of rhythm to it that makes it almost like a song. Reminiscent of Gayle Forman's hit novel If I Stay this book deals with a girl who very well may die in a hospital, and while they both have that lyrical writing style with quotes I wouldn't mind tattooing on my body and a nonlinear style that's about where it ends. Zhang's novel is told from the point of view of an interesting narrator (I won't say who it is so I don't spoil the surprise) and while it focuses on Liz, the girl possibly dying in the hospital, it also focuses on the impact Liz's choices have on everyone who loves her. So often I think people get mad a novels with characters who commit suicide (or try to) because they are afraid they will push teenagers suffering from depression over the edge, but while this book shows the main character falling into the situation where she thinks she can't come back from it also shows the effects of her decision, which is something that all books like this do. And this one does it well. I'm truly amazed at how the author, this teenage girl, manages to pull all of these things together into her writing and while it didn't leave me sobbing like it did the person who recommended it to me that's okay, because there's beauty in it and I saw that. Other than the subject matter and the slightly simplistic language used I think the only other thing that might upset people is the main character and her friends. They're not overly relatable character that you want to be best friends with. Quite honestly the main character is, on the surface, a terrible person and while her friends aren't quite that bad they're by no means warm and fuzzy, but I think it's important that they are at the center of this novel because it shows that everyone is vulnerable. We all have secrets and sometimes those that we think have the perfect lives are the ones that need kindness the most. So while I might not have loved the main characters I still found myself understanding them to some point, which in a book like this is all I think anyone can really ask for. Bottom line I'm very impressed with Zhang's debut novel and I can't wait to see what she writes next. Contemporary fans who enjoy a heartfelt book (and maybe a good cry) will probably eat this one up, and I think most people could benefit from it regardless of who they are. Sometimes it's easy as an adult to forget what it's like to be a teenager, so who better to remind us/you than someone who is a teenager herself?
Out September 9, 2014
4/5 dust spirits
*Thanks to Harper Collins for providing me with an ARC of this book in return for an honest review.