For fifteen year old Keek, things have certainly been better. She’s in a huge fight with her boyfriend, her best friend betrayed her, her parents are splitting up, and Keek’s suffering from a wicked case of the chicken pox. Because her mom’s across the country visiting her sister and her dad is moping in the basement, Keek’s staying at her grandmother’s house, where technology doesn’t exist and all she has to distract her is her beloved copy of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath an ancient typewriter.
Arlaina Tibensky’s cynical coming-of-age debut is, all things considered, pretty great. Told in diary-format, Keek’s documents her time at her grandmother’s house on the typewriter, alternating between writing poetry, lamenting about how sucky her life is, and comparing herself to Plath’s heroine Esther Greenwood in The Bell Jar. This is a smart, self-aware novel told in a conversational tone that is likely to resonate especially with slightly-more-jaded youth.
Keek is fifteen, and while much of her personality indicates this, she also often seems older than the average fifteen-year-old. This works, for the most part, as her entries vacillate between self-centered melodrama and highly introspective musings on the state of her life and on the characters in her favorite literature. She is oftentimes funny and passionate, and while she’s clearly taken with the fictional character of Esther Greenwood, her fascination with her never takes over Keek’s own personality.
Because of the novel’s format, voice is essential to the story working. The element of Keek’s voice is strong: it is clear, real, and honest. She fixates on the small details that would plague a teenage girl who is stuck without technology to distract her, which lends credibility to what Tibensky is attempting to do. There are moments where Keek is almost too self-aware for a young teenager though, and these moments are almost too “meta” to be authentic. Most readers will overlook this, though.
The novel moves fairly slowly (because Keek’s world has slowed down) and lacks much in the way of dialogue. Readers who prefer a quick story are going to struggle with Keek’s internal monologue. However, those who don’t mind narration (especially smart narration) are going to be rewarded: this is a book worth reading, and it’s a strong contender for what makes great contemporary YA.
And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky. Simon & Schuster: 2011. Library copy.