December 08, 2015
by C. K. Kelly Martin
Dancing Cat Books
Who wants to be called “delicate”? Porcelain dolls, maybe. But the teens in C. K. Kelly Martin’s Delicate would be loathe to be called delicate, regardless of the challenges, physical and emotional, they have to endure.
Delicate is told in the alternate voices of second cousins, Ivy and Lucan, who haven’t seen each other in seven years since Lucan’s mother Sheri told her cousin Lisette, Ivy’s mom, about seeing Ivy’s dad with another woman at a hotel. The two teens will become reacquainted at a 75th brithday party for a relative, but first they are involved in their own dramas. Life is drama after all, isn't it? Ivy is devastated by her boyfriend Jeremy’s break-up with her after 18 months together and learning that he’s hooked up with her best friend Betina. And Lucan is dealing with his divorced mother’s embarrassingly physical relationship with Julian, a man much younger than her, as well as trying to negotiate his best friend Des’s volatile relationship with girlfriend McKenna. After the family get-together, Sheri helps Ivy get a summer job at her merchandising firm which is just around the corner from the Mill Street Café where Lucan gets a job, and soon the two teens are comparing and sharing their lives with each other and declaring themselves absurdly delicate, though they both have tremendous strengths that they still have not recognized.
Fortunately, they enjoy each other’s company (how much is surprising) and the fresh perspectives on their respective issues. Ivy vacillates between longing, anger and vengeance with regards to Betina and Jeremy, by whom she has been infected with an STI, even getting Lucan involved in a dog-napping scheme, while Lucan begins to see the abusive nature of Des and McKenna’s relationship, enlisting Ivy’s help to defuse its volatility.
The tenuous nature of relationships is made very clear from the plethora within Delicate: Des and McKenna, Ivy and Jeremy, Ivy and Betina, cousins Sheri and Lisette, Lucan and Des, and so many others. The relationships between boyfriend and girlfriend, friends, husband and wife, parents and children and other relatives are all so delicate in that any incident or series of circumstances could destroy or alter them, shattering them to shards that may or may not be reconfigured. I spent most of the book worried that Lucan’s peanut allergy–which I incorrectly assessed as his delicacy–would be his downfall but I was mistaken. That would’ve been too obvious and C. K. Kelly Martin is never obvious. Her other books (My Beating Teenage Heart, 2011; Yesterday, 2012; Tomorrow, 2013; The Sweetest Thing You Can Sing, 2014) have always fascinated me by her analysis of the complexity of the human condition and Delicate takes that one step further by examining both the obvious and the unseen and showing the immensity of both in affecting our lives and the way we see ourselves. More importantly, C. K. Kelly Martin exposes the ways we hurt each other, sometimes deliberately, some accidentally, and some through negligence, and provides an upfront perspective on dealing. Maybe that's all you can hope for. Thankfully C. K. Kelly Martin does reassure the readers that being Delicate is not an indictment, just human.