I love a good, sad book. A real weepie is all my joy. I’ll try to avoid reading them, I’ll say, “oh, I’m not really in the mood for reading that,” but the truth is, a book that can bring on a nice, cleansing cry is pretty much always up my alley. And you guys, this book is so sad. I lost count of my Kleenex. And, ok, I have a cold, so let’s handicap the first 5. There were still at least 5 tear-filled Kleenex by my bedside table when I was done (also, I am a terrible housekeeper. Pity my tidy husband.).
What’s so sad? London is grieving the loss of her beloved big brother (older by a year, barely) and best friend, Zach. They grew up as the kids of globe-trotting missionaries, then settled down in Florida, where they met & fell for their first loves at about the same time. Now Zach is dead, under circumstances that don’t become totally, horribly clear til nearly page 300, and not only is London at sea without her closest friend, confidant and ally, but her normally loving dad is distant and her mom is somehow both vacant and hostile. It’s a terrible burden for a girl who needs her parents so badly, and Williams is good at making us feel both London’s gaping loss and at giving us glimpses of the distinct awfulness of losing a child that her parents are suffering.
This story of one kind of life coming to a close and another one — a sadder, more difficult kind of life, but one full of hope, friendship and love, too — beginning is moving and compulsively readable, but it is not particularly literary.
I’ve seen Waiting described as a novel in verse, but that isn’t quite accurate. Williams’ style is sort of prose poem-y, embodying London’s inner monologue. I’d describe it best as a crafted stream of consciousness. For example, here’s London remembering a happy time at the beach with Zach and his girlfriend Rachel. She observes them from the sand, snuggled up with her own boyfriend, Taylor:
Closer to the surf
Rachel and Zach ran at the waves
laughing like maniacs.
Taylor said, right after I thought it, he said,
“They’re crazy together, London. Did you ever think he’d
find someone as crazy as he is?”
“I never did,” I said.
Taylor looked at me then. He pressed his lips to my
forehead. “I love you, London Castle,” he said. His breath
was warm, and I felt crazy happy myself.
In fact, I felt
that everything in our world would have a happy ending. (173-4)
See what I mean? There’s an immediacy here that’s very appealing — I can see this scene in my mind, and I even think it’d make a fine scene in a movie that I would go see & sob all the way through — but it’s also a little clunky. There are tinges of a certain dreaminess, as befits a nostalgic reminiscence of a happier time, but then that final line/stanza? When both the reader and narrator already know that Zach is dead? It’s too obvious — the narrative equivalent of the sad trombone. If that happened in just a few spots, it might be excusable, but these dissonant notes are distributed liberally throughout the book, and from a literary perspective, where I’m looking for nuance and subtlety, they swamp the book’s finer qualities.
This book is a great example of a multi-star earner with tons of appeal that simply won’t make the grade for Pyrite Printz, or, I suspect, the RealCommittee.