May 30, 2015

The Death of Us

by Alice Kuipers
HarperTrophy Canada
216 pp.
Ages 13+

Be prepared for heartbreak. 

Before you’ve finished two full pages, a girl will be showing Kurt and his friends a social media image of Ivy’s car being pulled out from the river below the broken rail of the bridge.  And he knows that Callie would have been in that car.

Rewind two weeks, and Ivy Foulds and her alcoholic mom are returning after 3 years away to live next door to Callie Carraway and her family again, now that Mom has reunited with former boyfriend, Kevin.  But there’s something suspicious about the way that they left and about some secret between Callie and Ivy that cools their reunion.  However, with Callie’s best friends away for the summer and her preachy and inattentive mom distracted with new baby Cosmo, Callie is drawn to reconnect with Ivy who is determined to give "shiny-penny Callie in the bank account of my life" (pg. 5) a great summer.  But when Ivy is introduced to Kurt Hartnett, the school zine editor, on whom Callie is secretly crushing, she decides that, "He's so going to help me get over everything." (pg. 35)

So that great summer is off to an odd start and there are so many obstacles to it: Ivy’s flirtatious ways, secrets being held back and lies being told.  Sadly the book’s opening foreshadows a friendship that will be the death of them somehow.

Alternating between the voices of Ivy and Callie in the weeks prior to the accident and Kurt at the time of the accident, The Death of Us  examines the friendship between the two girls, both from the past and in the current summer, as they navigate their family issues and own forays into love relationships.  Their story told by the pen of Alice Kuipers is never predictable.  Not. Ever.

The girls are complex, juggling what they know, what they need and whom they trust, within each’s precarious family dynamics.  Most of all, Callie and Ivy are trying to figure out who they are and putting forward those personas.  But try as they might, they still don't have a handle on the people they are growing into.  Ivy likes to rely on self-help podcasts ("the best way to grow as a person is to step outside your comfort zone"; pg. 122) to navigate this learning while Callie tends to look externally to others, including books, to direct her ideas about self.  But Callie and Ivy are the products of their families–as is Kurt, in a different way–and they are so affected by their mothers, that I weep for mother-daughter relationships that can be so disheartening, even destructive.  But I cheer for those like Kurt and his friend Xander and Callie’s Granny who provide real and unconditional support and affection, even if only discreetly.

Even without the twists and turns of highly-plotted stories, there’s no way the reader will see the ending coming, just as author Alice Kuipers did in her book 40 Things I Want to Tell You  from HarperTrophy Canada, 2012.  You see, there is no need for Alice Kuipers to embellish truths and reality when the drama of real life is so captivating and she can write it so well.  The Death of Us will take you into that reality and walk you along that cliff edge, back and forth, wondering when the jump or the fall is coming, because you know it will. That's life.  And it will be The Death of Us, one way or another, predictably or not.

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