Paperback, 400 pages.
Release date: February 2nd 2012.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Source: Received from publisher for review.
Reviewed by: Arianne.
Dying of a broken heart is just the beginning.... Welcome to forever.
BRIE'S LIFE ENDS AT SIXTEEN: Her boyfriend tells her he doesn't love her, and the news breaks her heartliterally.
But now that she's D&G (dead and gone), Brie is about to discover that love is way more complicated than she ever imagined. Back in Half Moon Bay, her family has begun to unravel. Her best friend has been keeping a secret about Jacob, the boy she loved and lostand the truth behind his shattering betrayal. And then there's Patrick, Brie's mysterious new guide and resident Lost Soul . . . who just might hold the key to her forever after.
With Patrick's help, Brie will have to pass through the five stages of grief before she's ready to move on. But how do you begin again, when your heart is still in pieces?
This book really surprised me. It's an attention-grabbing premise - when so many real teenagers feel like a break-up is the end of the world, Brie's literal death by heartbreak will really appeal to readers - but I wasn't sure how it would pan out. I'm happy to report the resulting standalone contemporary had some pleasantly unexpected plot twists, appealing three-dimensional characters and a solid journey that added depth to a book otherwise defined by its deft use of teenage humour and desire for drama.
There's a complexity to Jess Rothenberg's The Catastrophic History of You and Me that you don't usually see in young adult books dealing with the subjects of grief and death. It's more vibrant than a novel that focuses solely on a character's ascent into the afterlife and more touching than a book which attempts to make light of every single aspect of this very difficult topic. Not since Gabrielle Zevin's Elsewhere have I been so invested in a character who is technically telling her story from beyond the grave, but let's face it, Brie is more likeable than Elsewhere's protagonists ever were.
I have to praise the secondary characters and their small threads of stories which eventually combine to create this bittersweet tale of love, friendship, secrets, forgiveness, and of course, enough pop culture references to make you want to relive every Disney movie you ever owned all over again. Patrick is the obvious choice for favourite - sweet, loveable, patient Patrick, all bike leathers and self-sacrifice. I loved the romance between him and Brie, though I did feel her frequent immaturity made it a little unbelievable.
One of my only complaints about the others is that, while I didn't like all of them (especially Larkin, and not just because she was evil - her character had purpose, but not realism) some were wrongfully neglected simply because there was so much going on. The plotlines involving Brie's father and Jacob (the very boy whose actions caused so much of Brie's heartbreak) were dropped like bombshells and then simply ignored for the rest of the book.
And yes, some of it was cheesy - really cheesy. There were some moments so cheesy they could have filled an entire stuffed-crust triple-cheese pizza. There were settings and actions and decisions I didn't like. (Selective telepathy? Really?) The writing wasn't always fantastic and the use of slang, while realistic in small doses, quickly began to irritate.
For the most part, however, Brie's voice was clear, unique and entirely accurate for her age. The ending also totally blew me away.
Sometimes, the appeal of a book like this is that, like many of its characters, it isn't perfect. It's the kind of novel you'll either love or hate, but I for one am glad I read it. It restored my faith in the ability of the young adult writer to tackle issues like the death of a teenager without drowning us all in endless misery. It was filled with humour (though I didn't find Brie laugh-out-loud funny as others seem to) and most of all, genuine warmth.
In short: The Catastrophic History of You and Me isn't an outstanding feat of literary brilliance - but it's a great story, and it will always find a home among my shelves.