March is capricious in Maine. After an abnormally warm winter, six inches of snow fell on the second day of spring. On Monday I put on skis to walk my dog, but most of the snow has melted now. Late March through April is mud season for us. Anything is possible. You need a good sense of humor and excellent outerwear to live this far north. Spring snow makes me want to curl up by the fire with a good book.
Mimi Cross is a new young adult novel about music, romance, and grief-induced addiction; it will cross over well to an adult audience. After her musical muse dies in a car crash, Cate can no longer play the classical guitar. This 16-year-old sophomore seeks escape in the foggy stupor of Ketamine. David, an 18-year-old wounded athlete, uses sex like a drug to forget the pain of his brother's suicide. These two troubled teens from dysfunctional families bond over their love of indie music. Their dark romance is told in alternating voices and is set in a posh New Jersey suburb.
What makes Before Goodbye special is the musician-author's knowledge of music and her lyrical writing style. The words sing from the page, begging for guitar accompaniment. I often paused to read lines out loud, to hear their rhythm. My teenage daughter is a singer/songwriter so I related to that part of the narrative on a personal level. The book was at its strongest when music found symbolic resonance in the plot and in Cate's character development:
"I do not play the instrument; I am the instrument. I serve. My fingers move up and down the fretboard, skip, skip, skip across the strings..."
"I put the guitar away, wondering suddenly as I do, what it would feel like to never take it out again. To close the case forever, like a coffin."
"Snow doesn't produce a sound. Rather it emits stillness. Cate's stillness is not so different, and like the snow, that still aspect of her, I'm starting to understand, has to do with something frozen."This gorgeous, engrossing novel suffers a bit from a typical debut problem: plot sprawl. There are enough subplots and messed up characters for a full season of a teen melodrama: two accidental deaths, two suicides, child abuse and neglect, depression, alcoholism, rape and homophobia on top of drug and sex addiction. Juxtaposition dilutes the emotional impact of these tragic issues and makes the story less plausible. The author does an admirable job delving deep into all of them, which resulted in a 400-page tome. Most contemporary YA is closer to 300 pages and is faster paced, especially in the opening chapters. Cross's novel would have been stronger for focusing more exclusively on the central plot without so many diversions. Even so, I stayed up late reading and look forward to more from this promising new author.
Given the edgy content, I would only recommend Before Goodbye to mature teens (16 and up) and to adults. The Maine Writer's panel on YA Today (last week's blog post) predicted more young adult books geared for older teens to accommodate adult readers (who comprise 80% of the market), and this is a fine example of the emerging trend. Cross covers a lot of contentious issues, but her novel includes consequences and learning. If my child were reading this book, I'd want to read along with her/him. Hopefully this dark story will open discussion on risky behavior. The author's acknowledgement ends with links to organizations supporting victims of rape, drug addiction, and domestic violence. Before Goodbye is a bold debut.
Reviewer's Disclosure: my writing crit partner, Charlotte Agell, recommended this novel to me since she knows the author. I bought the ebook and posted my review without compensation. Before Goodbye was released in January and is also available in hardcover, paperback, and audiobook from Skyscape Publishing, a new YA imprint from Amazon.