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.
This is one of those books where the author carefully paints and dresses each of her dolls with delicacy and precision. Then she painstakingly applies her marionette strings, lowers them to the stage, and starts the music. The audience watches in polite interest. The puppets move this way and that, dancing out their little, unremarkable performance. As a trick of the light, one by one the strings disappear and the little puppets move more and more like real people.
Before you know it, Gelbwasser has her little strings attached to you, and you feel each tug and release with sharp clarity. She writes like a true author of tragedies. It’s all mistaken identities, ill-fated timing and misunderstanding. Oftentimes this can feel forcefully contrived and ridiculous plot-forwarding. But not with Pieces of Us. Instead it just felt real. Unfortunate but unavoidable and completely understandable. Each character is driven by a different need and that need is always their downfall. Do they all manage to pick themselves up at the end? I won’t say. Should they have? I’m torn with that question.
This novel has a great deal of sexual content. It’s a lucky thing that I’d already read Taming the Beast: by Emily Maguire. Otherwise, I don’t think I would have made it through Pieces of Us with all its content.
I took issue, though, with the novels depiction of what occurs to Katie. It’s a very raw, disgusting, horrifying moment in the book, and it just keeps getting worse and more graphic. Yet a male character suffers a similar fate and the author offers him the privacy and dignity of not even mentioning it. Why does he get this consideration when Katie is opened up bare? All her shame revealed and smeared around for the reader to see and judge? It feels grossly unfair. It felt cheapening. Is it more horrific and terrible if it happens to a man? Or is it just that, as a society, we’re numbed to the horror of violence and sexual degradation to women?
It’s hard to discuss the quality of writing in this novel. The author switches between four distinct personalities. Some of the voices worked better than others but none truly felt disengenious. Some of the writing is very telling as opposed to showing, but Gelbwassa managed to pull me in anyway.
I was completely absorbed by the dance and entirely at Gelbwassa’s mercy. She almost had me. Almost. Then, just before the finishing line, the lights came on, the music stopped and I saw a tangle of strings and lifeless puppets. I felt empty, hollow, confused. I’m not sure the ending did the rest of the story justice, but when I close my eyes I can still see the silhouette from the dancing and the music still plays in my mind. I guess that still means it was a good book for me. Not to confuse my metaphors, but if Gelbwasser works on her dismount in the future, then I’ll happily read any book she puts out.