Pieces of Us – Margie Gelbwasser

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Synopsis

Two families. Four teens.
A summer full of secrets.

Every summer, hidden away in a lakeside community in upstate New York, four teens leave behind their old identities…and escape from their everyday lives.

Yet back in Philadelphia during the school year, Alex cannot suppress his anger at his father (who killed himself), his mother (whom he blames for it), and the girls who give it up too easily. His younger brother, Kyle, is angry too—at his abusive brother, and at their mother who doesn’t seem to care. Meanwhile, in suburban New Jersey, Katie plays the role of Miss Perfect while trying to forget the nightmare that changed her life. But Julie, her younger sister, sees Katie only as everything she’s not. And their mother will never let Julie forget it.

Up at the lake, they can be anything, anyone. Free. But then Katie’s secret gets out, forcing each of them to face reality—before it tears them to pieces.

Review

** spoiler alert ** This book was gruesome. It physically pained me to read. I ached from deep within. I cried.

I don’t even know how to feel about it. It paints almost all men in a really disgusting light. It paints almost all women as fickle creatures — as if a true friend is impossible to find.

Every character is a victim. Alex is haunted by his own actions. He couldn’t save his father from death. He couldn’t save Katie from her demons, despite loving her. He couldn’t save himself. At the same time, they never dealt with him — he was a loose end. Yes, he was described to cry out for Katie at night. But he never made steps to be a better person. He dated Julie. He even said himself, “What kind of person does that?”

Katie broke. Why didn’t she say anything? During that first time. After that first time. Ethan and Chris lorded “her” actions over her, as if getting raped was her fault and something for her to be ashamed of. That disgusted me. If anything, those boys should have been the ones ostracized, the ones punished, the ones who got threatened. This book killed me because it amplified the problems with the perception of rape in the world. It was not Katie’s fault. She did nothing wrong. She deserved none of the hate and shame sent her way. This book amplifies the issue, but gives no hope. We see Katie healing, but the only way for her to do that is at a facility that she does not want to leave. What will happen when she’s recovered? The world in the book is not a happy or constructive place. Neither her father nor Kyle can save her from the hungry, selfish men and petty women described. Is this really what our world is like, too? If you think about it, people should stop teaching their daughters to be careful, and instead, they should teach their sons to be better people. Kyle and Alex’s mother tried desperately to save Julie, when really, she should’ve tried to save Alex instead.

Likewise, Kyle needed saving. Katie reached out to him. His tale may be the only one with hope at the end. Perhaps that’s because he was dead inside for the duration of the whole novel. He spoke in second person, as if he was one-step detached from himself. It was disconcerting. More than that, it was heartbreaking. He understood that Katie wasn’t at fault. And he made the right decision to step away from Julie. I feel that his story was closed up perfectly. Finally, someone reached out to him. Finally, he learned to embrace the idea of himself.

Julie’s hate was so deep-rooted, and yet not without a cause. Her mother never paid attention to her, so of course she felt second best. Of course she grew to hate her sister. But at some point, that hatred got twisted around so much that it became unfounded and honestly, disgusting. Kyle liked her at first, but she turned him away because she was so obsessed with the idea of being better than her sister. She needs saving too. Her mother and Alex won’t do that — they’ll temporarily placate her by making her feel better, but she won’t BE better from the attention. She’s selfish and self-serving. I wish the story saw her coming to terms with her sister’s problems, and coming to terms with herself. She shouldn’t finally receive the attention she was always deprived of as a reward for finally being less “shameful” than her sister. That wasn’t a constructive way to end the story.

I have a lot of mixed emotions about Pieces of Us. I feel tired and broken by the fact that almost all of these characters end off at a point of unhappiness, distraught, or no glimpse of change; of becoming a better person. Kyle warded off his demons, but that’s because his main issue was with himself. What about the rest of them? And from the way the book described the world, what about the rest of us?

Related Reading

  • Anything gut-wrenching, sad, or painful
  • Just Listen – Sarah Dessen
  • Dreamland – Sarah Dessen
  • Burn for Burn – Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian
  • On the Jellicoe Road – Melina Marchetta

Rating: 5/5

 

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