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Book Review: Waiting by Carol Lynch Williams

London and her brother Zach were as close as two siblings could be.  When Zach dies, the family is torn apart.  London feels like she’s living in a fog.  She goes to class, eats dinner, sleeps, but never feels as though she’s really living.  As she deals with the aftermath of Zach’s death, she also struggles with her feelings for her brother’s best friend and the new boy in town.  Who will she choose?  Will she ever come to grips with the loss of her brother?

Carol Lynch Williams’s verse novel attempts to take on a lot of issues: religion, suicide, grief, loss, sex, first love, teen pregnancy, and family strife.  Unfortunately, this is definitely a case of cramming way too many things into one novel.  If it weren’t for Williams’s sparse prose poems, nothing about this novel would work–and nothing would be interesting, either.

The prose poems keep London’s thoughts just vague enough to be interesting to the reader.  They also move the story along, as this is a lengthy one.  However, the narrative device that Williams uses here–not revealing how Zach died until near the end–fails horribly and ends up creating a distance between the reader and London and Zach.  We never get a sense of who Zach was, which makes it hard to really care about what’s happened.

However, that’s small potatoes when you consider how little most readers will care about London.  Her inability to make a single decision about anything makes her hard to connect to.  While it’s clear that this is part of her grieving process, Williams relies too much on London being saved–both in the religious sense and in the boy-saves-the-day sense–for her to ever stand out on her own.  There’s no growth here, even when it should occur organically.  London feels stunted, and it doesn’t feel intentional.

Weirdly mixed messages about sex and empowerment and religion further cloud the murky narrative.  The novel’s ending so convenient that it’s actually laughable, and nothing about it feels authentic or plausible.  This reader was so put off by the heavily-religious undertones (and the coinciding heavy-handed–if a little confused–messages) that it was hard to walk away feeling good about this one.

Still, some readers will find it compelling.  There’s certainly stuff here worth examining–I just wanted it to be better than it was.

Waiting by Carol Lynch Williams.  Simon & Shuster/Paula Wiseman: 2012. Library copy. Read for 2012 Cybils Round 1 Panel.

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