Pieces of Us
by Margie Gelbwasser
Release Date: March 8, 2012
Source: Review copy
My Rating: ★★★☆☆
Two families. Four teens.
A summer full of secrets.
Every summer, hidden away in a lakeside community in upstate New York, four teens leave behind their old identities…and escape from their everyday lives.
Yet back in Philadelphia during the school year, Alex cannot suppress his anger at his father (who killed himself), his mother (whom he blames for it), and the girls who give it up too easily. His younger brother, Kyle, is angry too—at his abusive brother, and at their mother who doesn’t seem to care. Meanwhile, in suburban New Jersey, Katie plays the role of Miss Perfect while trying to forget the nightmare that changed her life. But Julie, her younger sister, sees Katie only as everything she’s not. And their mother will never let Julie forget it.
Up at the lake, they can be anything, anyone. Free. But then Katie’s secret gets out, forcing each of them to face reality—before it tears them to pieces.
I must admit that I had trouble finishing this book. I went into it thinking it was more Y than A, but it was quite the opposite. Pieces of Us deals with some very mature, disturbing subjects, that at first I felt very uncomfortable reading about. I am very sensitive about the subject of abusive relationships and those who think that they deserve it. No one deserves to be treated like dirt, and seeing one of the characters in this book going down that self destructive path bothered me greatly.
That said, this book was very well written and touches on some very real issues. How jealousy and rumors that spread like wildfire can ruin a person’s life. How we are a product of our environment, and how we often turn out more like our parents that we would like, or admit, to be. How abusive relationships can cause irreparable damage. How, when a girl says no, it means NO. This was a very strong debut novel for Margie Gelbwasser.
The story revolves around four teens, two sisters and two brothers, who live in different states but that know each other from spending their summers at a lake house where they are neighbors. Katie and Julie, the two sisters, and Alex and Kyle, the two brothers. The dynamic between these siblings is a very difficult and complicated one. There is very strong sibling rivalry between the girls, mainly because Katie is seemingly the happy go lucky type who is on top of the cheer leading pyramid. Her sister Julie resents Katie for having everything and for being “the pretty one”, a stereotype perpetuated more by their own mother than anyone else, who favors Katie in everything, making Julie feel unwanted, insecure and craving love and attention. Little does Julie know that Katie’s life is not as perfect as it seems, and that she’s dealing with some very scary skeletons in her closet.
For the two brothers, life is no picnic either. I didn’t like Alex’s character very much. I found him to be a prick, with total disregard for people’s feelings and a complete lack of respect for women. I did realize that this is largely due to the fact that he grew up watching his mother not respecting herself or her body. He despises his mother for cheating on his father, who later committed suicide, and then turning into an easy woman, sleeping with a different guy every night and working as a stripper. I cringed every time he called women words that I wouldn’t repeat out loud, and it pained me to think of how many like him are walking around hating women because they have mommy issues.
Kyle was the more “normal” of these characters. While I found him to be socially inadequate most of the time, he was more sensible and human than any other character in this book. Even if he didn’t feel love towards a person, he was incapable of hurting that person, and maybe that was his big problem, that he didn’t express his feelings enough. I also sympathized a bit with Julie. I felt for her in the beginning, how she was always in her sister’s shadow and that made her feel insignificant, but I didn’t like the person she later became, someone willing to hurt others just to please some (and herself).
In conclusion, I had mixed feelings about this book. There were things I hated, and things that I connected with. There were definitely things that touched me at a very deep level and maybe that’s what made it hard for me, because the author of this book didn’t pull any punches and called things for what they were, but this is more of a personal issue for me. Like I said before, the writing was impressive and the plot was very intriguing. If you like to read about the complex nature of the human condition, this is definitely the book for you. I give it 3 stars.