And Then Things Fall Apart

And Then Things Fall Apart

5.0 2
by Arlaina Tibensky

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Keek’s life was totally perfect.
Keek and her boyfriend just had their Worst Fight Ever, her best friend heinously betrayed her, her parents are divorcing, and her mom’s across the country caring for her newborn cousin, who may or may not make it home from the hospital. To top it all off, Keek’s got the plague. (Well, the chickenSee more details below


Keek’s life was totally perfect.
Keek and her boyfriend just had their Worst Fight Ever, her best friend heinously betrayed her, her parents are divorcing, and her mom’s across the country caring for her newborn cousin, who may or may not make it home from the hospital. To top it all off, Keek’s got the plague. (Well, the chicken pox.) Now she’s holed up at her grandmother’s technologically-barren house until further notice. Not quite the summer vacation Keek had in mind.

With only an old typewriter and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar for solace and guidance, Keek’s alone with her swirling thoughts. But one thing’s clear through her feverish haze—she’s got to figure out why things went wrong so she can put them right.

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Keek has had nothing but bad luck lately. Her parents are getting divorced, she had a huge fight with her boyfriend, and she's holed up at her grandmother's house for the summer before her sophomore year while she recovers from chicken pox. As she struggles with her myriad problems, she draws inspiration from Sylvia Plath's life and The Bell Jar and pounds her thoughts out on an old electric typewriter. The protagonist is a strong female character who lends insight into the way teenagers react and deal with everyday situations. Tibensky examines the art of expressing oneself through poetry and prose, and Keek's language and thoughtful writing enhance her emotional development, sustaining the story until the end.—Katie Wilkinson, Gar-Field High School, Woodbridge, VA
Children's Literature - Anne Hevener
Keek's life is going to pieces. Her parents are divorcing; she had a huge fight with her boyfriend; and to top it all off, she is holed up in her grandmother's spare bedroom (a technology vacuum) with a nasty case of chicken pox. Helping her cope with her depression, anger, confusion and fever-induced delirium is an old electric typewriter and a dog-eared copy of Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar. The story, told through fifteen-year-old Keek's typewritten sick-room narratives, is a sardonic account of how her once and recently perfect life suddenly spun out of control. With her mom out of town and her dad either at work or lying low in her Grandma's basement bedroom, Keek's real-time interactions are limited: She shares some awkward and some endearing moments with her Grandma, and she gets a few visitors; but most of the book is comprised of Keek's retelling of and reflections about events of the past months. Although she is dealing with real-life pain here, Keek's voice is wry and witty with moments of laugh-out-loud hilarity. She writes candidly in her pages about sex, describing her struggle with "how far to go" with her boyfriend Matt. She also confronts the shocking fact that her father has had an affair with a woman she knew and trusted as a friend. The book's format adds some cleverness: "Chapters" open with Keek's journal headers, listing the date, her present mood (at one time "hallucinatory," another time "Dickensian") and body temperature. A playful use of type in spots—falling letters, all caps—reinforces the impression that these are hand-typed journal pages. Mature teens will have no trouble identifying with Keek. Though the circumstances may vary, the feeling of a life-turned-upside-down is familiar to most, and teen girls are likely to gather reassurance from Keek's experiences and her ability to pick herself up and begin to heal. Reviewer: Anne Hevener
VOYA - Cynthia Winfield
Living outside present-day Chicago, Karina (Keek)—on summer break before her sophomore year of high school—is stuck in her paternal grandmother's spare room suffering with chicken pox. Her wrestler boyfriend is away with family, her mother is gone on a family emergency, her father is living in Gram's basement after being caught groping a waitress, Amanda, in the family's Dine & Dash walk-in freezer, and her parents are divorcing. Her life is falling apart. Keek's cell phone is broken and Gram has no computer, leaving Keek marooned with her thoughts, her virginity, a copy of The Bell Jar and a raging Sylvia Plath obsession, the occasional phone call from Mom, and Gram's gray-green electric IBM typewriter. Tibensky's first novel is composed of Karina's typewritten thoughts over this agonizing summer when she is "sofa king" miserable—an epithet adopted from her cool older friend, Amanda, the D&D's harlot waitress, and used liberally—and all she can do is whine onto paper. Readers who survive Keek's summer will find a satisfying conclusion in September. Suited to readers who enjoyed The Bell Jar (Harper & Row, 1971), the novel examines relationships and betrayals, sexual flirtations, sanity, and parallels between Keek's life and Plath's protagonist, Esther Greenwood. Libraries offering Tibensky's work will also want to have Plath's writings available. Keek's strong feelings about others based on her current knowledge of each character could make the book useful in writing seminars as an illustration of first-person limited point of view. Reviewer: Cynthia Winfield
Kirkus Reviews

Life is "sofa king" hard that 15-year-old Keek has developed an addiction to Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar.

In this cynical coming-of-age debut, this summer has to be the hardest. She is stuck at her grandmother's house because she has the chicken pox, her father cheated with a waitress from their family restaurant and her mother has left to support her sister's premature baby. In desperation, Keek turns to her grandmother's typewriter to write poetry and record recent events. She can't help but notice her similarities to Esther Greenwood, The Bell Jar's main protagonist. In her conversational first-person account, which often sounds more mature than most 15-year-olds but always gets the feelings right, Keek expounds upon the breakup of her family and her obsession with her virginity and when to lose it. Those who have read The Bell Jar will appreciate such other Esther-like details as Keek's unsympathetic mother, her nurturing grandmother (who suffered a nervous breakdown and shock treatments in the past), her wrestler boyfriend (who not only doesn't appreciate her poetry but has betrayed her by sleeping with someone else) and seeing his penis for the first time. Also like Esther, Keek blends serious subject matter with sarcastic humor and claims her "I am" mantra to begin the healing process and take charge of her future.

Whether or not they are Plath lovers, readers will delight in Keek's self-discovery. (Fiction. 14 & up)

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Product Details

Simon Pulse
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4 MB
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

DATE: July 12
MOOD: Fractured
BODY TEMP: 103.5

I once watched a collector kill a monarch butterfly on a nature show by putting it under a glass dome with a piece of cotton soaked in gasoline. The insect’s wings flapped less and less until they were perfectly still.

Suffocation is a cruel way to go.

I can’t breathe under my bell jar either.

I’m hot.

I have the chills.

I’m drenched with sweat, smothered beneath a hundred-pound coverlet.

My head hurts. My eyes hurt. My tongue feels heavy so it’s hard to talk. If I stop typing, a vein in my forehead twitches with my pulse.

I close my eyes, leaning my head back on my pillow to rest. For a second it’s as dark as a midnight sky. Then I imagine the shattered pieces of my heart sparkling like mirror shards.

But when I open my eyes, I am still here: in the spare bedroom in my grandma’s house with her ancient green bottle of Muguet des Bois from her own high school years on the dresser. My deceitful and depraved father is still staying in the basement. My mother is still in California visiting her sister’s premature newborn, and my boyfriend, Matt, is still avoiding me.

The best years of my life.

And then the itching resumes with renewed fury.

Because I have the chicken pox. It’s a virus that, contrary to popular belief, you can still catch well into your teens.

I think I am losing my mind a tiny bit at a time. When the chatter in my head gets too loud, I start to type. The noise from the typewriter keys drowns out the noise in my head. Getting what I’m thinking onto paper in smudgy black letters feels good, like stretching or punching a wall. Or crying. Which I’m not doing much of anymore because it doesn’t seem to help.

I’m not the first person to ever be sick, enraged, depressed, delirious, betrayed, and confused all at the same time, or to use a typewriter to examine life in all of its jagged-edge glory. Sylvia Plath did it too, and she is the most inspired, beautiful, and subversive writer of her generation. She’d be almost one hundred years old if she were alive. So even if she didn’t kill herself when she was thirty, she’d be dead by now. At least she left us her poems and The Bell Jar.

The Bell Jar is about a young writer named Esther Greenwood and how she goes a little crazy and then gets better. But the book is really all about how life is unfair. And right now, whose life is more unfair than mine?

It’s also about losing your virginity, and babies being alive and beautiful, or dead and grotesque, and either way ruining your life. But mostly it is about how hard it is to be yourself in a world that wants you to be someone who is easier to deal with. And it’s about writing. Which I also love. And trying to kill yourself, which I’m so not into, even though being alive is sofa king hard for me lately.

For the past four months I’ve been reading my tattered dog-eared copy of the novel over and over again because it seems like the sanest thing to do. The book is challenging and comforting and often hilarious, unlike my own day-to-day, which is none of those things. Sylvia Plath is there for me when actual living people upon whom I have depended my whole life, are not. What I mean to say is, without her words, I’d be exponentially more messed up than I am already.

Do I have a computer? A link to the outside world? No. My cell is even out of commission since the last fight I had with Matt when I flung it against the wall of the walk-in freezer at my parents’ restaurant. The screen’s not cracked or anything, but the # key chipped off and is somewhere in a vat of shredded mozzarella. I didn’t tell my parents, because then they would have asked what the fight was about. (My virginity! Huzzah!) And for all I know, some poor customer is going to swallow a # key and die of a ruptured intestine and sue my parents, and it will all be my fault.

Without real entertainment, I will try anything to amuse myself. Not unlike the polar bears at the Brookfield Zoo, I need complex toys to keep me from going insane in my ten-by-ten cage. When Gram lugged this electric typewriter up from the basement this morning so I could practice my “typing skills,” I was actually excited. She gave me a lesson on shifting and carriage return before she left to drop off shirts for my dad at the dry cleaner’s.

It’s a gray-green IBM, and weighs about a thousand pounds, but actually it is pretty amazing. Fast. When I hit the keys, they clickity-clack. As the ink presses onto the paper, it’s like I’m actually making something. Like art.

Maybe it’s the pox, or my frying brain, but all I really want to do is type. I’m sick of being a hunt-and-pecker, typing like an intelligent duck. I was halfheartedly taking an online keyboarding class, and would have still been at it if I hadn’t gotten stricken in my prime. But I am trapped in this little bedroom, which used to be my great-grandma’s before she died. I’m alone with this antique typing device. My brain. And a fever. How much more Plathian can I be?

Computers are quiet and clean and totally distracting because the Internet is there, lying in wait for a moment of weakness to pounce on your creativity and progress. Sylvia didn’t have to deal with Facebook. Blogs. Etsy. Twitter, for Christ’s sake.

Gram just has basic cable, so TV is rather limited, but doable. The woman makes perfect boiled eggs, though, and buys the really good orange juice, the Sabor Latino with guava kind that my mom says smells like feet. Weird, the things that are making me miss my mom. She’s in Los Angeles, but she might as well be in Siberia.

My head is throbbing and I am scratching so much that the sheets are leopard printed with spots of light pink blood. Not that my father would even notice. Dad is either working alone at the restaurant or driving the Dine & Dash delivery van around the streets of his youth, wondering where the hell it all went wrong and thinking not at all about his abandoned, ailing, and itchy only child—me.


High on the exam table,
You watch me from the doorway.
While the doctor twists my arm
This way
And that.
A specimen.
My heart plays dress-up.
Disguised as a little girl,
I am asleep on a merry-go-round.
Itching and aching,
Mouth dry as toast.
What to do?
Daddy, Daddy, you traitor, I’m through. 6

© 2011 Arlaina Tibensky

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