School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—Writing in a first-person journal format, complete with crossed out words and sentences, 16-year-old Evan invites readers into his confused existence as he mourns the loss of the girl he considered his best friend. Whatever happened to Ariel tore apart their friendship and left Evan and Ariel's boyfriend, Jack, bereft. Evan seems to teeter on the edge of sanity, musing about fractals and binary numbers and "so many frequencies playing in my mind." When photographs with ties to Ariel begin appearing on Evan's route home and in his locker, he and Jack try to track down the connection. A lead via Facebook turns out to be a dead end, and the locations show that the photographer must be intimately familiar with Ariel's life. The short chapters and the photographs themselves make this a quick read for most students. Plot holes may rankle some readers: Evan trashes Ariel's bedroom and no one notices? He is nearly run over by a train and there are no consequences? Some readers may feel a tad cheated by the ending, which introduces a heretofore unknown character. Nonetheless, the idea of a photographic novel is intriguing, and readers are likely to get caught up in the drama. Suggest it to those who enjoyed Matt de la Peña's I Will Save You (Delacorte, 2010) or the verse books by Ellen Hopkins.—Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth, TX
Levithan (Love Is the Higher Law) is back with an unusual book that has an equally unusual path to creation; in his afterword, Levithan explains that the novel was inspired by the cover photograph, and that the book’s mystery was shaped by photographs Farmer supplied him along the way. High school students Evan, who narrates, and Jack, both loved troubled Ariel and feel guilty for the role they played in her being “gone.” When Evan finds a photograph in an envelope, it leads him to other images and to the conclusion that someone is stalking them, someone who blames them for what happened to Ariel. Through the haunting photographs, redacted text (much of the text has been struck through, as Evan edits, revises, and negates his thoughts and feelings), readers learn more about Ariel’s mental problems and the psychological damage Evan feels in her absence. There is a lot of emotional buildup, and readers may feel let down by the unraveling of the mystery. Even so, this book will challenge readers to reconsider storytelling and what it means to know and truly care for someone. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
Starred Review, The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, October 2011
“Between us, we were supposed to know you,” says the narrator of this poignant novel. The “you” he addresses there is a girl named Ariel, whose lacerating absence is keenly felt; the “us” is narrator Evan, who loved her beyond anything but couldn’t have her to himself, and Jack, Ariel’s boyfriend, to whom Evan turns after Ariel’s departure. Evan narrates in tense, jagged sentences that bleed with raw emotion as he fights for control, often crossing out the most revealing utterances as he tips into stream of consciousness, and reveals piece by piece that the very troubled Ariel attempted to kill herself. Already haunted by guilt and grief, Evan is further tormented by the photographs someone has been strategically leaving for him, photographs that shadow his actions with Ariel and suggest there was someone in Ariel’s life about whom he knew nothing. Levithan creates an immersive emotional experience here, with Evan easily recognizable as the boy who was already settling for being a friend when he ached to be more. The mystery is poetically enigmatic, with the reproduced pictures tantalizingly ambiguous even as they fit into the narrative; on the way, however, there are other mysteries readers will be exploring, piecing together the answer to questions such as “What happened to Ariel?” and “Is this all in Evan’s mind?” The book manages to imbue a not-uncommon teen crisis and dynamic with the sharp significance of the rare, and the slight artifice of its approach will only enhance the draw of what is undoubtedly the Emo Book of the Year. DS
VOYA - Mark Luetkemeyer
Ariel is missing. Her best friend, Evan, tells this story while grieving for his loss. Strange pictures of Evan, Jack, Ariel, Squirrel, Dana, and different scenes from Ariel's relationships with the students start appearing when Evan is walking to school one day, then in his school locker, and then in his email. He enlists the help of Jack, Ariel's one time boyfriend in the quest to find out what happened to Ariel. Jack and Katie question if Evan is sending the photos, or even if Evan is going down the same dangerous path that Ariel took. Evan perseveres and finds out that Ariel has a friend, Dana, who wants revenge on Evan and Jack for stopping Ariel from harming herself. David Levithan uses photographs as an essential element in the story showing different people and scenes important to the plot. The afterword explains Levithan's thinking on the use of the photos. The line formatting of the text shows the evolution of thought processes and helps to build suspense. The book is written for high school students who enjoy suspense but also for those who face depression in everyday life. Mental illness and loss touch all of us and this book shows what can happen to survivors self destructive behaviors. Levithan is a well known author of young adult literature and this work continues his legacy. Reviewer: Mark Luetkemeyer
ALAN Review - Henry Robinson
In the suburban area Evan lives in, news gets around quickly. When Ariel's problem goes public, he becomes the boy that is friends with the crazy girl. He was never very loud, but he locks himself in his mind. He shuts himself down. Then, when he starts receiving pictures of himself with Ariel he never knew existed, his wounds are reopened. Who is sending him these pictures? Why is this mystery man tormenting him? How do they know what had happened? Evan and his close friends work quietly to find out the mystery man's identity and end all of the pain they have caused. After breaking into Ariel's room and finding mysterious pictures, they question if they were even really close to Ariel. Did they really know her? This novel illustrates the multiple personalities we all have. No one can ever know the whole you; sometimes even you can't know every you. Reviewer: Henry Robinson,
High-schooler Evan blames himself for the breakdown of his close friend Ariel.
When a mysterious photographer strategically plants pictures of him and his missing best friend Ariel where he will find them, Evan starts to unravel with paranoia, guilt and grief. He enlists Jack, his close friend and Ariel's former boyfriend, to help find out who's sending the photographs and why they're being stalked. Readers will immediately recognize Levithan's familiar writing style, characterizations and themes: his cadences and wordplay, the complex connections between characters, the stream-of-conscious inner dialogues. What they won't recognize is the messy, stilted, stop-and-go plotting characterized by Evan's jumbled thoughts—some of which he decides he wants to express, while others are crossed out. While this conceit intensified Laurie Halse Anderson's Wintergirls (2009), its far more extensive use here only succeeds in confounding readers. Much of the drama and mystery behind what's happening to Evan and what he's going through is extinguished in a cloud of word repetition and jumbled back-and-forths between the present and the past. Farmer's photos are appropriately haunting and help move things along, but a simplistic and unsatisfying conclusion will have readers wondering why they went through it all in the first place.
A sadly disjointed attempt at a thriller by a celebrated romantic. (Thriller. 14 & up)
Read an Excerpt
It was your birthday. The first one after you [left vanished] were gone.
When I woke up, I [dreamed] thought about other birthdays. Ones where we'd been together.
Like two years ago. Freshman year. [When I had you all to myself.] I asked you what you wanted and you said roses, and then you said, "But not the flowers." So I spent weeks gathering presents: a polished piece of rose quartz, White Rose tea, a ceramic tile I'd bought at the White House in fourth grade featuring the Rose Garden. A novel called Rose Sees Red, a biography of Gypsy Rose Lee, a mix of songs by bands called Blue Roses, the Stone Roses, White Rose Movement. Then I rigged your locker with pulleys, so when you opened it, all the objects rose. I'm not sure you got that part, not until I told you. But you were so happy then. [This was before happiness became so complicated. This was when you could ask me for something, I could give it to you, and the world would be right.]
And then there was last year. [You went out with Jack at night, but I at least had you for the afternoon.] I asked you what you wanted and you said you didn't want anything. And I told you I wasn't planning on giving you anything; I was planning on giving you something. That whole week, we started to divide things into those two categories: anything or something. A piece of jewelry bought at a department store: anything. A piece of jewelry made by hand: something. A dollar: anything. A sand dollar: something. A gift certificate: anything. An IOU for two hours of starwatching: something. A drunk kiss at a party: anything. A sober kiss alone in a park: something. We ended up spending the afternoon walking around, pointing at things and labeling them anything or something. [Should I have paid closer attention? Written them down? No, it was a good day. Wasn't it?] At the end, you pointed to me and said something. And I pointed back and said something. [I held on to that.]
Now it was a year later. I wished you a happy birthday. [That word again. Happy. It's a curse. The pursuit of happiness makes us deeply unhappy. It's a trap.]
Before anything else happened, there was me in bed, thinking of [who] you [used to be].
I don't want you to think I forgot.
I see too many things at once. I notice shadows. Think about them. And while I do that, I miss other things. Important things. I can't stop looking, even when I [want to] have to stop. I get lost in ifs. They are always there [if if if if] and I should only be able to tune in to them if I'm on the right frequency. But that's the thing about me: The frequencies don't divide.
[That day was your birthday in my head, but it wasn't really your birthday anywhere else.] I wanted to tell people at school that it was your birthday [but I didn't want to get their reaction when I brought it up]. I started to think it was like a surprise party, only they weren't telling either of us. They were going to surprise both of us. [I didn't have this thought for long. It was really just there for a moment.] I pretended like it was a normal day [without you there]. And like all other normal days, I made it through to the other end. [It can be done, you see.]
There are things you decide [and there are decisions you don't even know you are making]. That afternoon, I decided to cut through the woods on my way home. [As I headed that way, I looked at the ground, not the branches or the sky. If I'd stopped to talk to someone after school instead of heading straight home--if I'd had someone to talk to--maybe someone else would have gotten there first. I didn't decide to see the envelope.] I saw the envelope sitting there on the ground. [I should have left it alone. I should have been left alone. I was alone.] I stopped and picked it up. From the weight, I knew there was something inside. I decided to open it.
[I wasn't thinking of you.]
It was so small. I had to focus. I couldn't focus without telling myself to focus. [The eyes take in the colors and the shapes. The images go to the brain for translation.] First I saw the trees, then the sky. It didn't look familiar. [The brain cross-checks the translation against the memories it's stored.] I fixed on the four bare trees, standing like orphaned table legs. I knew those trees--I looked away from the photo and there they were in real life, no more than twenty feet away from me. I walked over to the nearest tree, but that didn't tell me anything. I looked at the envelope, but it was completely blank. [No address, no name on the front. I looked.] I almost put it back. But the sky was getting gray, almost as gray as the sky in the photo. Leaving it on the ground didn't seem right. It was going to rain.
I saw the other trees. I held the photo up against real life, figured out my place in it. But there was something I was missing. [Or maybe there was something extra. I was here. I was not in the photograph. Therefore the photograph was then, and I was now.]
I turned around and saw my school. Its windows. Watching me.
I put the photograph back in the envelope. [I didn't put the envelope back on the ground.] I kept it. And I might have forgotten about it. I might have just thrown it out, or let it stay in my backpack until it became crumpled and torn and wrecked on the bottom with all the pieces of unchewed gum slipped loose from their wrappers. I might have just shown it to Jack or someone else the next day at school. [In another time, I would have shown it to you first.] We would have shrugged and moved on to the next thing. It would have been a short, short story.
Random, we would have said.
Completely without a pattern.
Completely without a recognizable pattern.
Either the event is outside any pattern.
We are unable to comprehend the pattern.]
I folded the envelope in half, careful that the photo wasn't caught in the crease.
(I try to be a careful person. Most of the time my carelessness is completely unintentional.)
I looked around one more time, stood in the center of the bare trees, at the exact center.
Then I headed home and I lost focus and the barrage in my head started again.
[You will never be happy again. Why do you even think about it?]
Five minutes after I picked up the photo, it rained.
[This pain is all that you have.]
If I'd been five minutes later, it would have been raining if it had been five minutes later, I would have been dashing through the rain, not noticing if I'd been five minutes later, the envelope and the photo would have been soaked, ruined.
If I'd been five minutes later, none of this would have happened.
It probably would have happened anyway. Just not like this.
I woke up at two in the morning, feeling guilty that I hadn't asked you what you wanted this year.
From the Hardcover edition.