This sprawling story, the first YA winner of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, begins with Abby at age 11—when her father's cancer is first discovered—and moves through his decline, death, and its aftermath, continuing into Abby's sophomore year of high school. Abby's friends Spence and Leise are her primary sources of support, though both characters are thinly drawn, existing solely to be there for Abby. As for Abby, her defining qualities are naïveté (regarding both the gravity of her father's condition and Spence's growing feelings for her), denial of the lingering anger her father's death has left her with, and self-absorption, as she pushes away nearly everyone who reaches out to her. Ackley taps into the loneliness of the grieving process, as well as the pain that comes with such a primary loss; while the story suffers from unnecessary length, a ponderous pace, and a third-person narrative that swings between an off-the-cuff, teenage voice and some quirky, stodgy phrasings, readers who stick with it will appreciate Abby's steady journey to acceptance. Ages 12–up. (Aug.)
VOYA - Shanna Smith
Through the course of her father's illness, and ultimately his death, Abby grows from a naive twelve-year-old girl to a confused fifteen-year-old adolescent. This period in her life is divided into two parts by author Amy Ackley: before the death and after. Before her father's illness, Abby lived a seemingly normal, happy childhood. The news of his terminal cancer, however, breaks her world into pieces, and within four months she loses her father. Part two of this story begins immediately after the death, and it deals with Abby's struggle to cope with all of the changes and move forward. Luckily, throughout this period she is able to depend upon Spence, Abby's closest childhood friend and now, her first love. This is an amazing debut novel for readers who appreciate contemporary teen fiction. It is both moving and realistic, a result of the well-crafted family relationships. The author succeeds in creating genuine connections that manage not to feel forced or rushed, despite the pace of the story, which spans three years. Many young adult readers will relate to these characters, and especially enjoy the touches of romance. Give this book to fans of Sarah Ockler's Fixing Delilah (Little Brown, 2010/VOYA December 2010) and Angela Morrison's Sing Me to Sleep (Razorbill, 2010/VOYA June 2010), and be prepared for some tears along the way. Reviewer: Shanna Smith
Children's Literature - Jackie Fulton
At the age of twelve, Abby North's parents are her whole universe. So when Dad gets sick it is only natural that her universe begins to feel disjointed. At first embarrassed by her father's illness, Abby withdraws from her social network and focuses on Dad's recovery even when the end is imminent. When Dad finally succumbs to cancer her world is shattered. Now that her father is gone Abby finds that she cannot withdraw from the world permanently and is left to face the reality of moving on. Eventually, Abby has to find a way to rebuild family and friendship connections and start focusing on the trials and tribulations of being a teenager. Although there is a significant portion of this book that focuses on dealing with a terminally ill parent and the grief of losing a loved one the real story is in the family's struggle to cope with being survivors. Certainly a read to pull at your heart strings this novel presents believable characters while gently approaching the topic of life after grieving.
School Library Journal
Gr 6–8—Abby North, 13, lives in White Lake, 30 minutes from Detroit. She has a crush on her older brother's football teammate and a best friend who is surprisingly nice for being one of the popular girls. Her parents are a little older than some (48 and 55), but overall the Norths are a typical, low-key family-until her father has kidney surgery, after which the c-word comes up. The chapters that deal with her his failing health and its effect on the family are realistic and sensitive, although hospice doesn't come off looking too good (at least not through Abby's eyes). She never fully registered what the final result of her father's illness would be, and she has a meltdown at the funeral home, shocked that his body is there. For a close-knit town, there is little mention of neighbors pitching in, with the exception of precocious and likable Spence, Abby's best friend. The novel spans two and a half years, and after several false starts, Abby and her family are moving forward while still honoring Sam North's memory in the closing chapters.—Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth, TX
To call this affecting debut a tearjerker is an understatement.
Sure, Abby North's dad has terminal cancer, but that doesn't mean he's going to die. Besides, the young teen from Michigan can always consult her Magic 8 Ball, which she sees as her direct line from God, and it can't be wrong. But Abby's dad does pass away before her freshman year in this heartbreaking story that's divided into the summer before and the two years after his death. The quiet yet steadfast third-person narration becomes intense as Abby refuses to eat, can't find the tears that everyone else wipes away and longs for a sign from her father to know he's still a part of her fractured life. While the focus is on Abby, the book also shows how death can affect family members in different ways, from her older brother's dabbles with alcohol to her mother's guilt for wanting to date again. The grieving process and the newly awakened emotions that come with being an early teen continue to ring true when Abby pushes everyone away, especially her childhood best friend, Spence, who may want to be more than friends after all these years.
Will Abby's story of loss and love gain popularity? Signs point to yes.(Fiction. 12 & up)