Written by: Jen Violi
Released: May 24, 2011 by Hyperion
Summary: It's been four years since Donna Parisi's father passed away, but it might as well have been four days. Donna makes conversation and goes through the motion, but she hasn't really gotten on with life. She's not close with anyone, she doesn't have a boyfriend and she's going to college at the local university with a major that her mother picked. But one day Donna has an epiphany. She wants to work with dead people. She wants to help people say goodbye and she wants to learn to love a whole person--body and soul. She wants to live her life and be exceptional...at loving, at grieving and at embalming and cremating, too. Even as she makes the decision, things start to change. Donna makes friends with the charismatic new student, Liz. She notices the boy, Charlie, at her table and realizes that maybe he's been noticing her, too. And she begins to forgive the rest of her family for living their lives while she's been busy moping.
Jennifer Violi's gentle, moving story of a girl who finds a life in the midst of death will appeal to any reader who's felt stuck and found inspiration in an unexpected place.
This wasn’t exactly what I expected as I read it. After the first few pages I was a little worried that the focus would be largely on death and the after-effects, but what I found instead was a novel about coming into yourself and being true to what you want in life. Sure, death was a large part, but the way that it was used created a much larger picture than one would believe.
Donna was a character who made it very hard to like her in the beginning. I think it’s because she was so reserved and pulled within herself that, as a reader, you’re not able to get a feel for her until you’re fairly deep into the novel. Up until that point you find yourself wondering why she keeps complaining and not taking control of her own life like she wants to. But that’s what makes her a great character and shows how well written she is. While not dealing well with the grief over her father passing away you can see how it has affected everything from her personal relationships to how she thinks. She starts off strangely fragile despite her hard exterior and as the novel progresses you see the cracks starting to form until she becomes independent and sure of herself. By the end of the book I wanted nothing more than to find out what happens next.
The content in this book is something, which, I can honestly say, I have never seen the likes of. The closest that I’ve come to something even remotely similar is with the first My Girl movie and that’s only because the main character lives in a funeral home. That’s pretty much where the resemblance stops aside from a few very minor details. The concept of death isn’t new to YA books and having a character whose parent has died isn’t either, but add in the funeral home and the study of working in a mortuary and you have something special. While I can see this not being for everyone since it is so blasé when speaking about the dead (not in a negative way) and juxtaposing it to religion and spiritual beliefs, I believe that this will reach a large audience with its originality.
I would highly recommend this to anyone who wants a ‘normal’ YA read free of vampires, were-animals, or anything remotely supernatural. If you’re looking for a book that’s firmly rooted in real life sans over-privileged rich kids scrambling to topple someone on the social ladder – this isn’t for you. But if you want something incredibly realistic with real problems and a wonderful plot, try this. Chances are you won’t be disappointed. I’m giving this an 8.5/10.
On a side note; isn't that cover gorgeous?
Thank you to everyone at netGalley and Hyperion who made it possible for me to read this before it's released in stores.