A Realistic Portrayal of Grief, But Not Without A Couple of Issues
5 March, 2014
Sometimes I honestly think I'm just setting myself up for disappointment when I get excited about a super hyped book. Me Since You was an okay read. But, mind you, I can say with reasonable confidence that I'm one of the very small minority who hold this view, because almost everyone (seriously) loves this book and is singing it's praises. So the odds are, you're going to like this book too.
Rowan Areno is a normal kid. But when she skips school one day, she sets off a domino effect that has irreversible repercussions on her life. Row's father, a policeman, find and brings her home, and while he's lecturing her, he gets a distress call about a suicide/murder attempt in the vicinity. But not every rescue attempt is a success, and Corey Mahoney jumps to his death with his baby son Sam in his arms. Eli, a boy who lost his father during the Iraq War, is a witness, and also the one who rang 999. With Corey's death, everyone who was on that bridge that day, and those connected to them, are caught in a tangled web, striving to make their way out of it, trying to make sense of the pall cast over them all... and that is the story of Me Since You.
Me Since You is a sad book. The vast majority of it's readers have cried while reading it (I didn't, but then, I'm a no-tear machine, except in extenuating circumstances, and really exceptional books), so most probably, so will you.
One of my favourite things about Me Since You is how Wiess has touched upon a number of contemporary issues in the book. These issues (media attention, news censorship, the harshness of commenters, to name a few) are not explored in detail, but are woven into the story so that, despite their very short appearance in the story, they linger in the reader's mind, questioning, exploring. One reason for this is that they play a role in the ripple effect that plays a significant role in this book. If Rowan hadn't cut school, if her father hadn't caught her, if Eli hadn't called in, if Corey hadn't jumped, if the video hadn't leaked...
Me Since You makes an honest and comprehensive exploration of depression and grief, interconnected as the two are. Starting from Corey, to Officer Areno, to Row, to Eli, to Row's mother, almost every character in this story deals with a combination of the two emotions, and it's really a study to observe it from all their perspectives, and how they each deal with it differently. Officer Areno's narration in the book, albeit short, truly gives us a sense of how he thinks and endears him to us, so that when he dies, we truly feel the loss. Also noteworthy is Row and Eli's relationship. This is no knight-in-shining-armour story. Their relationship is not precisely a sideshow, but nor is it under the limelights, but occupies a middle space, contributing a bit to Row's healing, but not acting as a catalyst.
But while these were what made me like Me Since You, I still had a few reservations. I was not able to really connect with Row as much as everybody else seems to have. This may be because of how much other aspects of her character put me off. In the beginning, for instance, she doesn't exactly come across as likable, but more of a brat, especially when seen through her father's eyes (a couple of scenes are written from his POV). I'm not ascribing my disconnect to the fact that she skipped school. No, we've all rebelled at one time or another, so I cant find fault with that. It has more to do with her attitude towards her father. The animosity she was displaying towards him felt unwarranted, as was the picture painted that that was the habitual tone of their relationship in recent times (this is a pet peeve of mine, but why is the parent-child relationship in YA books usually so turbulent?). And when compared to the way she behaves with her 'best friend' Nadia - going back to her repeatedly without realising that she's giving her the cut, or even when she does, not caring - it really doesn't show her in a good light. Not to me, at least. As a result, I wasn't able to empathise with her. This changed though, towards the end, when she starts writing letters to her father, pouring out her grief, her anger, her guilt, and everything that has happened since in a manner that is truly heart breaking.
Another issue I had was with the idea that a suicide note is essential to the healing process. Both Row and her mother do not understand why Officer Areno committed suicide, and that doubt does not allow them to move forward (also, the recurring mentions of the note felt like the author was setting up a stage for an obvious conclusion). Only when they do find a note are they able to let go of him. Not every suicide victim leaves a note. While I understand that it provides some closure, and was essential to Row's healing, I also felt like it was reinforcing the idea mentioned above, which, is by no means true.
Me Since You is a book that explores grief and dealing with sorrow in a realistic way. There aren't many grief books out there that dont attempt to romanticise the issue by bringing in a knight-in-shining-armour type just to 'lighten up' things a bit, and for that reason, among others, Me Since You can be called an original.
Bottomline: Me Since You is a must read for readers who enjoy issue books. With it's comprehensive take on several issues, and original approach to grief/depression, this book definitely stands out from its contemporaries.
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