Google+ YA Romantics: Just Finished Reading ... Pieces of Us

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Just Finished Reading ... Pieces of Us

This week I'm writing about three contemporary YA books. Some people think that YA contemporary = fluffy romance.
Not true. These three books represent different levels of tone -- from very grim to much lighter.

Pieces of Us
by Margie Gelbwasser
Flux Books
March 8, 2012

Source: NetGalley, which provided this title on behalf of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Mature content: I wouldn't recommend this for teens under 14. Some scenes are graphic and disturbing.

Margie Gelbwasser's second YA novel is a gritty contemporary tale written in an out-of-the-box narrative style. If you like books that are uplifting or happily-after-ever, you should definitely look elsewhere. But if you're looking for books that explore the darker side of the teen experience, you might want to give this one a try.

The story is told from the point of view of four teenagers: sisters Katie and Julie and brothers Alex and Kyle. The girls live in New Jersey, where Katie is a popular cheerleader and studious Julie quietly resents her. Alex and Kyle live in Pennsylvania. Their father committed suicide and their mother earns money in ways the boys would rather not think about.

Every summer, the four teens retreat to a lakeside community in upstate New York to stay with their Russian immigrant grandparents. At the lake, the four are friends. But their idyllic days are interrupted by a weekly visit from the Chicken Man. In fact, the book opens with a bloody chicken killing scene that foreshadows the terrible events to come.

One fall, after the foursome hard back to their "real" lives, Katie drinks too much at a party and finds herself incapacitated and at the mercy of two male classmates. As one bad choice spirals into another, Katie's life turns into a nightmare.

The book is written from the alternating points of view of all four characters, with Kyle's POV written in the second person -- a fairly unusual narrative choice for a YA. (I assume that Gelbwasser did this to make the boys' voices distinct from one another.)

I'm not usually a fan of multi-POV stories. But for this book, I think the technique works. As the book's title suggests, these shifting points of view offer the reader fragmented "pieces" of each character's take on the events in the book.

As a parent, I found Pieces of Us a disturbing read. As a teen, I think I would have found it less so. (I definitely read my share of "problem" novels back in high school.) Those types of books reminded me that although life as a teenager could suck, things could always be worse. As the #YAsaves** campaign of summer 2011 argued, some teens' lives actually are that bleak, and books like this might help them feel less alone.

**The New Yorker magazine summarizes #YA saves here.


  1. Wonderful review Jen! This book sounds really good. I do like to read darker and more emotional books on occasion. I like multiple POV's as long as they are done well, and not confusing. I think this book will go on my TBR list.

  2. Sometimes the content makes a book much harder to digest. It sounds like it was well written despite the content. I am intrigued on the one hand and do want to read it, but I am definately in the mood for some lighter reading. I think my clue was when I ordered all those books at the B&N 50% off sale and 6 of my 7 choices were contemps! LOL

    1. Yes, I saw your shopping list. I can't believe I messed up the expiration date of that coupon :(

  3. This book has been on my TBR list for a while. I'm not always a fan of "problem" novels either, but something in the summary of this just clicked for me. Plus that cover, love it. It somehow screams "lost innocence" to me. Great review Jen:)

    1. Let me know what you think after you read it!
      And yes, the swing set does play a role in the book :)

  4. Great review--somehow I missed the #YASaves campaign but I could not agree more. YA Literature has grown and changed so much--and the growing popularity I think shows that it is a needed genre. Taking the emotional and harsh reality out of YA because we want to "protect" teens is not going to make those realities go away. Instead people who have been hurt will feel shame--they cannot tell their story because it affects moral development? Their moral development has already been affected--compounding that with fear and shame seems cruel.

    And what about the person who now recognizes that something may have happened to his/her friends after reading a book. Taking the book does not change the even for the friend--just the knowledge that could have prompted action?

    Ok--I am off the soap box. I just feel strongly that excellent YA literature which prompts teens and adults alike to read more is a good thing.


    1. Come tell me what you think any time!
      I was struck while reading this book -- and other books like it -- that none of the characters seemed to have any adult in their lives that they could go to for help. That's really sad.

  5. This books sounds too depressing for me I think. Though it does sound interesting.

  6. Ok so I am a sucker for fluffy romance novels but I truly love reading books the explore the darker side of life and this one sounds amazing. I'm sure people look at these books and wonder why it's so dark but it really is honestly written and just bold and I love when authors just go for it. Thank you for the review, this is definitely going into my TBR list.

  7. This book seems to touch issues that most people would ignore writing about or reading about. It is good that the author decided to write something like Pieces of Us to bring awareness and so teens who may have faced this issue won't feel alone in a place where people tend to ignore or hide the bad. I'm interested in reading this book to see how the four point of views come together.


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