Monday, July 13, 2015
The Secrets of Love and Death
Theo "Turtle" Dawson is going through a hard time. His brother A.D. died and his mother isn't taking it well. She copes by ignoring Turtle and keeping A.D.'s room obsessively clean. Turtle copes by eating sweets and meekly trying to avoid bullies at his school. Two events turn his whole world upside down. A girl named Rita Calderon saves him from a bully and his two giant brothers. Then his brother A.D. comes back from the dead. Rita gets him to wake up and live his life. He falls in love, lets go of the candy, and becomes more self assured. His brother, on the other hand, unsettles him. At first, it's wonderful to have his brother back. It's like nothing changed at all. Then he presses Turtle into stealing a drink from the market. Then the demands get more and more dangerous from there and Turtle loves his brother, but sees how wrong it is. Will he give in to his brother's demands despite the danger? Will his new found love suffer because of A.D.?
The Secrets of Love and Death is a complex book with a lot going on. Its greatest strength is in the characters. They all simply ring true. Each has their own different motivations and viewpoints, whether they are open-minded or bigoted, virtuous or morally bankrupt. All of them also have their own emotional baggage that they either work through or use as motivation to make others feel their pain. Turtle tries to be good, but finds himself being blinded by his grief and love for his brother to properly assess the situation until its too late. His home life makes me want to give him a hug because his mom is also so blinded by grief that she can't see her living son and his needs through it. Rita has to take care of her sometimes coherent grandmother who hoards cats to an unhealthy degree. She chose to hide it, but didn't take it out on others. Ansley Meade the bully has a not stellar home life, but he chooses to lose himself in alcohol and inflict his pain on others. A.D. was killed before his time and also uses his pain to hurt others. I loved that none of these kids have perfect lives and the main differences are how they deal with their pain. I saw myself and a lot of my friends reflected in these characters. The novel has a lot of fantastical elements, but the realism is what gives it life.
The novel starts out with normal, everyday events. Turtle and Rita are in love for the first time and all the messiness, anxiety, and happiness that comes from that. Turtle becomes more confident and self assured, but still experiences doubt and his previous, more cowardly feelings coming back when times get tough. Rita opens up about her real home life and fears being rejected. All are very real and relatable situations. As the book go on, more horror and supernatural elements occur. It starts with a short scene with a Teddy Bear and then it's forgotten for a little while. Near the end of that book that creepy teddy bear comes back with a vengeance, so it made up for the first half of the book not having enough horror for me. With a teen book, I didn't expect the story to go so dark with the main villain, but it's more realistic and I appreciated that. A.D. returning from the dead opens up a whole supernatural can of worms. Another spirit also attempts to communicate and a clairvoyant gets mixed up in the story.
Overall, The Secrets of Love and Death is an exciting supernatural book with universal human emotions at its core. Everyone processes grief and pain in different ways and not always in healthy ones. I'm a little sad this is a standalone because Rita and Turtle were so fun to read, but I'll settle for waiting for more books from E. Van Lowe.
My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins