Hardcover, 352 pages
Published August 26th 2014 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Format read: E-ARC via Edelweiss
Leigh’s encounters, lessons and observations definitely aren’t an easy read, but it’s inevitably a rewarding one.
Synopsis via Goodreads:
Darkly humorous and heart-wrenchingly beautiful, Jennifer Longo’s YA debut about a girl stuck living in a cemetery will change the way you look at life, death, and love.
Leigh sells graves for her family-owned cemetery because her father is too lazy to look farther than the dinner table when searching for employees. Working the literal graveyard shift, she meets two kinds of customers:
Pre-Need: They know what’s up. They bought their graves a long time ago, before they needed them.
At Need: They are in shock, mourning a loved one’s unexpected death. Leigh avoids sponging their agony by focusing on things like guessing the headstone choice (mostly granite).
Sarcastic and smart, Leigh should be able to stand up to her family and quit. But her world’s been turned upside down by the sudden loss of her best friend and the appearance of Dario, the slightly-too-old-for-her grave digger. Surrounded by death, can Leigh move on, if moving on means it’s time to get a life?
Jennifer Longo has written a tale that is smart and cynical, but it’s that cynicism that will very likely make some readers stop about halfway through, and call it a day. I should know – I very nearly became one of those readers.
However, let me assure future readers right now: stick it out. At the end of the day, Longo has created an interesting tale on growth and overcoming grief that I think many readers will readily appreciate.
Things that worked:
From the very first page, Longo makes it clear that we’re about to take a journey in protagonist Leigh’s head, and it’s not going to be an easy one.
Leigh’s fourteen when the book begins. She’s lost her best friend, and she’s been forced to move from her beloved ocean home to acemetery of all places. On top of that, she also has to adjust to life with a sister who is now in remission from cancer.
Though Longo could have easily made Leigh into a depressed character that does nothing but complain about her lot in life, she doesn’t. Yes, Leigh is frequently sad at the things she’s lost in life, including that lack of normalcy that should be automatically granted to all of the young adults of the world.
However, she’s thoughtful, snarky and intelligent about those losses. Even as Leigh admits that it’s embarrassing to be teased for things outside of her control, or ruminates over her guilt in possibly finding a new friend to replace her lost best friend, there’s sincerity and honesty to her thoughts. Longo is essentially giving readers the uncensored version of what a young teen thinks in very trying times, and it’s something I think all readers will connect with.
Six Feet Over It takes place over a surprisingly long period of time, spanning between Leigh’s fourteenth and sixteenth birthdays.
Throughout these two years, Longo manages to hit on all of the key milestones of Leigh’s life, showing how grief first dictates her every waking moment, but how life and circumstance also begin helping her find the strength to move on.
The sheer volume of time means that readers get to see every step of Leigh’s evolution, and it’s a lovely, depressing and thought-provoking journey.
The romance factor
- Mild spoilers away –
Dario initially seems like the stereotypical romantic interest for Leigh – he’s older, from a different country, and he’s eager to please.
Fortunately for us, Longo doesn’t bring their relationship down that route. While there is obviously a rapport there, it’s one that’s built on a camaraderie of not necessarily fitting into their current location, and the realization that they can built on those differences and develop strength within for each other.
Loved their relationship, and loved how Longo shows that it ispossible for men and women to be friends without anything sexual getting in the way.
The familial relationships
Longo’s pretty consistent throughout the book, in reinforcing the idea that Leigh comes from a negligent family. Wade is clueless, while Meredith is oblivious.
It could have been very easy to have Leigh just hate both of parents for never being there for her. However, Longo does a good job of showing just how Wade and Meredith have become the (slight) caricatures of parenting that they are now, and whythey’ve become selfish in following their own pursuits – including emotional fatigue from caring for Kai.
It’s not easy reading about two parents neglect a kid like Leigh, but I think her reaction and responses can be enlightening and cathartic reading for younger readers.
Without giving spoilers away, I will say that Longo has written the type of ending that really shows that Leigh has taken the lessons that she’s absorbed over the last two years to heart, and have grown from them.
It’s not necessarily the happiest of endings, but it gives so much hope for the future.
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
It’s been awhile since I’ve critiqued a book cover, but I think it’s important for me to say right now: the cover really doesn’t fit Leigh’s story. The cover makes Leigh seem like a mopey hipster, when she's anything but that. (My apologies to the designer!)
So if you’re a reader who likes to use the cover as a gauge for whether you want to pick up the book or not, definitely overlook this cover when you’re making your considerations.
The tough issues
I think it’s probably important for educators, parents and readers to go into the book with the knowledge that Longo doesnot hesitate to delve into some pretty profound issues.
There’s teenaged death, terminal illness, depression – and that’s just for starters. But Longo manages to handle all of these with issues with the type of sincere honesty that I think readers will definitely connect with, and maybe also recognize in their own lives. Yes, Longo sometimes dwells on the depression too much - part of the reason why I almost stopped reading - but she's honest about it.
She doesn’t hesitate to acknowledge that yes - it really sucks for Leigh to have to deal with these situations and the feelings that develop from them. But at the same time, it’s also perfectly okay for Leigh to have the feelings that she does.
And even though Leigh doesn’t always handle her situations in the best way – there’s a certain degree of immaturity to how she relates to people and to situations – it’s surprisingly real.
I highly recommend this book for fans of Libba Bray and Justina Chen.
About the author:
JENNIFER LONGO holds an M.F.A. in Writing for Theater from Humboldt State University. She credits her lifelong flair for drama to parents who did things like buy the town graveyard and put their kids to work in it-because how hilarious would that be? Turns out, pretty hilarious. Jennifer lives in Seattle, Washington with her husband and daughter and writes about writing at taotejen.com.