Hardcover, 272 pages
Published August 26th 2014 by Point
Format read: Finished copy via publisher
Cooner's book will motivate readers to positively assess the role of social media in their own lives, and how that relationship impacts their real-life relationships with family and friends.
Now, strangers online are bashing Torrey. And at her new school, she doesn't know who to trust. Is queen bee Blair only being sweet because of Torrey's Internet infamy? What about Raylene, who is decidedly unpopular, but seems to accept Torrey for who she is? And then there's Luis, with his brooding dark eyes, whose family runs the local funeral home. Torrey finds herself drawn to Luis, and his fascinating stories about El dio de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.
As the Day of the Dead draws near, Torrey will have to really look at her own feelings about death, and life, and everything in between. Can she learn to mourn her sister out of the public eye?
I think it's a book that I will definitely be recommending to the teens that I work with. The lessons in the book aren't always perfect - more on this later - but they're apt enough that I think the teens I work with, will gain a lot from reading this book.
Things that worked:
From the start, it's obvious that Torrey will not going to be the most likable of characters. She's suffering from the aftermath of her sister's death, in a strange new city.
While Cooner doesn't shy away from exploring Torrey's full gauntlet of emotions - including her occasionally judgmental moments against family and prospective friends - she's also careful to emphasize that Torrey's acting out is a result of her pain from her sister. There's a rawness to Torrey's pain that makes her extremely relatable, which I think other characters will recognize.
As for secondary characters, Cooner does a good job of including interesting old and new characters in Torrey's new life, including a love interest that is not only cute, but also helps her learn new ways of letting go of her pain.
Plotting and Pacing
In many ways, we're picking up on Torrey's story after all of the big things have happened, including her sister's accident, the funeral, the move, etc.
But Cooner does a great job of showing the amount of work that is needed for Torrey's recovery process, and how this is a journey in it of itself. She beautifully paces each step of Torrey's odyssey, allowing the reader to feel that same sense of accomplishment as Torrey manages to overcome each stage, to slowly gain her sense of self back.
This book is actually a pretty masterful examination of the ten stages of grief, and I think that a lot of younger readers could benefit from this.
The parental factor
Speaking of grief, Cooner make the smart choice of having Torrey's parents play fairly large roles in the story. They're both still trying to cope with Miranda's death themselves, and it's interesting to see how they're individually struggling, but how Torrey uses that struggle as impetus to recover.
It's a very stark, realistic look at how a family moves on from grief, and I applaud Cooner for including it.
The romantic factor
I generally don't like romances in books like these - it seems a little weird to be dating someone so soon after family tragedy. However, I thought Luis was a nice fit for Torrey. He isn't just cute or charming - though he has plenty of both attributes - but he also provides an alternative outlet for her grief, and lets her mourn in her own time.
I loved the fact that he and his family shared in their Los Dios de Las Muertos traditions, and used that to help Torrey process her feelings about Miranda. I kind of wanted to wave this book at the young women in my life and tell them, "Look - you need guys like this, who let you be yourself."
The obvious internet factor
While the discussion isn't perfect - more on this later - Cooner brings up some important ideas on what it means to put yourself out in the public sphere, without necessarily having any control of who your audience is, or what they can say.
It's something I think educators and readers can use to instigate conversations about public access with teens.
The understanding that a balance is needed
It's never explicitly stated, but Cooner does a fine job in reinforcing the fact that a balance is needed between an internet life - especially when you're famous - and your actual day-to-day life.
There are subtle reminders of what missed opportunities may occur if there's too much focus one thing, and how sometimes - those opportunities just don't come back. Torrey learns this lesson the hard way, and it's both painful and motivating to see her eventually find that balance.
While I felt like there was much more left to be explored in Torrey's life, I do think that the ending was wonderfully done. Cooner concludes Torrey's arc on a note that lets the reader know that certain stages of her life have now closed, and she's willing to move on now.
Things to consider:
I think there was a slightly missed opportunity to discuss just what it is that drives people to seek out internet fame - e.g. is it the instant gratification? Or is it the desire to feel permanently connected? - and the struggles of trying to turn off from that form of communication. How does one do it, when everyone else is still a part of that digital world?
I would especially recommend this book for educators and parents, who may be looking for a way to engage their younger readers about how they communicate online, and what information they put out there. I think that Torrey's experiences will go a long way in teaching them on how to be smart about internet usage, while also learning to value moments in their real life.
I recommend this book for fans of contemporary fiction/YA contemporary fiction, including fans of Huntley Fitzpatrick and Katie Finn.
About the author:
Donna Cooner is the acclaimed author of SKINNY, which was nominated for YALSA's Best Fiction for Young Adults and was a 2012 BEA Buzz book. Donna lives with her goat dog, Roxanne, in Fort Collins, Colorado, where she also works as a professor of education. You can visit her online at www.donnacooner.com.