July 13, 2018

Past Tense

Written by Star Spider
HarperCollins
978-1-443452113
304 pp.
Ages 13+
April 2018 

When you're fifteen years old (Julie) and you think you're in love with your best friend (Lorelei) and dreaming of that first kiss while your mother (Olive) is acting weird, telling you her heart is gone, and your best friend's ex (Henry) whom you never liked is hanging around and Dad (Max) is always working and your baby brother is only six months old, everything is a worry.  Your world is beyond tense, it's almost unendurable.

This is Julie's present. Her friendship with Lorelei has always been solid, though probably more so because Julie usually accommodates her popular and assertive friend, more so now that she is crushing on her.  But Lorelei is keeping secrets and making choices that Julie is questioning, at least to herself, so Julie doesn't confide in her best friend when her mother starts acting really, really weird.  Julie has discovered her mom, a former firefighter, is barely eating, thinks she no longer has a heart, and driving out to the cemetery at night with the baby. Stranger yet, when Julie insists on going with her on these excursions, her mom wants her to play out a game called Rest in Peace where Julie eulogizes her mother.  Does she tell her father? No. He's too busy and just contends that her mom is tired.

And into the mix comes Henry, Lorelei's ex. At first, Julie is convinced Henry just wants to reconnect with Lorelei, but it soon becomes obvious to all that Henry likes Julie. Julie doesn't know what to think. Maybe she just likes girls. Maybe she likes both boys and girls. Still, Henry who has his own worries is the one person she can talk to about everything. But can she reveal everything to her new ally when Mom is trying out caskets and Lorelei may be hiding a secret about their teacher Mr. Gomez?

Though a writer of some acclaim, Past Tense is Star Spider's first novel, and it's a doozy. Having a young teen questioning her sexuality is not unusual, though the path Star Spider takes her on to help understanding it–watching others, listening to her heart, and pondering what her head is telling her–is fresh. But when mixed in with her mother's mental illness, later diagnosed as Cotard's delusion, and a family on the edge, along with friend who is both secretive and affectionate, Julie's story is far more angsty. Fortunately, by looking back through the past–each chapter begins with a memory of Julie and her mother–the reader will realize the past shapes our relationships and our future but does not determine it.  Julie's friendship with Lorelei does not have to remain as it was when they were younger, just as her relationship with Henry can be something different than it was when he dated Lorelei.  And her strong and capable mother is no less because of her illness or status as a stay-at-home parent.  Living in the past is futile. Moving forward is a necessity.

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