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The Way He Lived

The Way He Lived

4.0 7
by Emily Wing Smith

"It’s a testament to Smith’s skills that although her central character speaks only through other people’s recollections, his identity emerges distinctly by the end of the novel."

Publishers Weekly, starred review

Winner of the 2009 Utah Book Award (young adult


"It’s a testament to Smith’s skills that although her central character speaks only through other people’s recollections, his identity emerges distinctly by the end of the novel."

Publishers Weekly, starred review

Winner of the 2009 Utah Book Award (young adult category)

Sometimes being true to yourself means sacrificing everything...

Joel Espen could never be who he really was in the small town of Haven. Still, there was always something different about him. Sixteen years old. Green eyes that could see right into your heart. A selfless need to save people. Even the way he died reflected the way he lived: helping others. But how are you supposed to just go on living like normal after suddenly losing your brother . . . your best friend . . . your first love?

As the six teens who were closest to Joel try to find the meaning behind his death, they begin to realize that tragedy can sometimes set you free—by revealing who you truly are.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Besides living in the same Mormon community in Utah, Tabbatha, Adlen, Miles, Claire, Norah and Lissa have something else in common: each had a special connection to Joel Espen, who died of dehydration after giving away his water during a badly planned Boy Scout expedition. In vignettes showing the six teens' differing points of view, first-time author Smith probes into the psychologies of the survivors to demonstrate Joel's effect on their lives and their attempts to make sense of his death. Tabbatha, Joel's overachieving older sister, accelerates her recovery from the "nervous breakdown" she suffered before Joel died, telling herself that each new effort is something her brother would have wanted from her; his best friend, a self-proclaimed "bad kid," slashes the tires of the Scout leader's truck, using the knife Joel left him. The author preserves each narrator's complexity, investigating their defenses and revealing their core selves while dropping clues about the enigmatic Joel. It's a testament to Smith's skills that although her central character speaks only through other people's recollections, his identity emerges distinctly by the end of the novel, giving the audience enough information to judge his actions for themselves. Ages 13-up. (Nov.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

North Star Editions
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
12 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt


By Emily Wing Smith


Copyright © 2008 Emily Wing Smith
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7387-1404-2

Chapter One

August 10 Mood: worried :-s Music: Gnarls Barkley Crazy

I am worried because I have no idea how to write a blog. I am crazy because I had a nervous breakdown last year.

Now I don't have anything left to write. My mood and my music sum it all up.

So far this isn't a very interesting blog, I know.

My next entry will be better, though.

August 11

I guess I should have started by introducing myself, and my blog.

I'm Tabbatha Espen. Eighteen years old. My interests include reading, doing crossword puzzles, and eating chocolate. I just graduated from Haven High School. My ACT score is 35. My SAT is 2270, combined. I was going to go to Smith College this fall. Now I don't know what I'm doing.

My family includes me, my mother and father, my little sister Claire (15), and my late brother, Joel. I don't know if you call someone your "late brother" if he died when he was still a kid. Joel was almost 17 when he died, so technically he wasn't a kid. He was an adolescent. Anyway, that's my family.

You may be thinking, "Why is this girl keeping a blog? She sure isn't very good at it."

This is true.

Joel was the one who wanted me to start a blog. He said, "Tabs, you're a good writer. They have some cool sites where you can start a journal on the web. You know, where other people can see it. You should try it."

I didn't get the point of having a journal where everyone could see it; I still don't. But Joel wanted me to do it, so I'm doing it.

Fulfilling the wishes of a dead guy.

It is my neurotic way of handling it.

August 12 Mood: reflective :-? Music: The Beatles The Long and Winding Road


It's been nine weeks since my brother died.

I wasn't there when it happened, but the people who were tell me that it was four o'clock in the afternoon when his eyes rolled into the back of his head and they knew he was gone.

So right now, at this very moment, it's been exactly nine weeks.

It's an interesting thing, being gone.

I mean, that's how I think of Joel since he died: that he's gone. But there are a lot of ways to be gone. Like this year, I was going to be gone. I was going to Smith College, which is Back East, as opposed to Out West, where I live. If I were gone, then like Joel I wouldn't be around for Sunday dinners or holiday weekends.

Nine weeks isn't even a whole semester. If I was gone for nine weeks, I don't think my mom would even miss me. Honestly, I'm not just saying that. I think I would come home for Christmas and she would say, "Tabbatha, it seems like you just left!" And the whole vacation she would be saying things like: "I bet you can't wait to get back to school, can you?"

But with Joel gone, she notices every day. We all notice Joel gone every day.

I notice other kinds of gone, and I wonder if anybody else does. Like Dad is gone. He goes into the office so early that sometimes I don't even see him before he leaves, and when he gets back I'm often already asleep. And speaking of being asleep: my mom is sleeping a lot more than she usually does. So in a way, she's gone, too.

Now there's another kind of gone. It happened today, which is Sunday, and the only day of the week everybody is home. Mom and Dad sat down with Claire and me right after church and told us that we're moving.

They've already closed on a house. Apparently "closed on" means case closed. They aren't asking us if we can move, they're telling us we will move. As in, they've already hired movers for Saturday.

This Saturday we're moving to Haven.

Haven is less than a mile from West Haven, where we live now, but it's in another world.

Outsiders don't know that the city of Haven is made up of two very distinct sections. It is, I believe, the last place on earth to have a proverbial "wrong side of the tracks." Everything west of the railroad tracks is drained out swampland where land is cheap and, according to Havenites, so are the people. We've had a three-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath bungalow (circa 1933) out here in West Haven since I was two years old.

We grew up here.

I'm not ready to be gone.

August 14 Mood: tired of packing |-[ Music: Joni Mitchell Big Yellow Taxi

I went crazy and started seeing a therapist way before Joel died and the rest of my family started needing a therapist. But they don't have a therapist. I do. Her name is Cathy.

It was 9:10 this morning when I got to the medical center where Cathy works, and the meteorologist on the waiting room television said it was nearing 91 degrees. I wished the temperature would reach 91 before the clock reached 9:20. If it stayed in the 9:10s and the temperature made it to 91, then the temperature would be 10 percent of the time. Puzzles like that fascinate me.

"How has this week been going?" Cathy asked me as we walked to her office. "How are the headaches?"

"Not so bad," I told her.

They aren't so bad. Not like they used to be back when things were expected of me.

The sunlight radiated through her office. Cathy loves the sun, probably more for its warmth than its light. I started seeing her on April 24, and she has worn a jacket at each of our sessions so far. Cathy sat on her usual chair, not saying anything. Probably waiting for me to say something.

"So," I said, stalling. "So, uh ..."

I never know what to say to Cathy. What do you say to a shrink when your brother just died, but that's not why you're crazy?

Okay, this diversion is officially over. I went to Cathy's this morning. Now I'm packing. Welcome to my world.

Same day, 2:30 p.m.

I just realized that maybe I should explain why I see Cathy. The thing I don't get about blogs is how much backstory to tell. I mean, a journal is easy. You don't need a backstory because it's your life, and unless you have a really bad memory (which I don't) you remember major events leading to other major events.

The major event that led to Cathy was this: All my life I've been an "overachiever." You know that girl in the front of the class, with pale skin and glasses? The one who wrecks the curve and turns in extra-credit assignments early? The one who reads during recess and hopes it rains during PE? The one who goes to science camp in the summers? That was me.

People were always asking if the pressure got to me, and I was like, "What pressure?" Life was just life.

By senior year I had everything: 4.0 GPA, a billion AP credits, and an early acceptance to Smith.

Then, in the spring, when everything was supposed to be winding down and I was supposed to be slacking off and dreaming of college, the whole nervous breakdown happened. I was always busy planning graduation with the rest of the graduation committee, or at a final-exam study session, or a lunch meeting for some club or another. I forgot to eat, forgot how to sleep. Just felt ... numb.

And then one day, I couldn't find my good dictionary. Not the lame abridged version, but my real dictionary-the hardcover I won in the school spelling bee. I don't know how long I had been looking for it-seriously, like searching for it-when Claire came in.

I was crying hysterically. Every drawer was upturned and swept out. I was reorganizing the closet. Why? Was I thinking I had accidentally shoved it in between my sweaters after looking up "millinery"? I don't know-I was in the middle of a psychotic episode at the time. And Claire was right there, watching it happen.

Do I even need to say she got freaked?

Not like I blame her. I was the big sister-helped her with homework, drove her places, took care of her when Mom was having an off-day and couldn't. I was the one in control.

Then, one day, I wasn't.

Claire talked to Mom and Dad, who talked to my doctor. He was the one who talked to Cathy.

August 16

I Always Helped Serve At Everybody Else's Funeral.

Whenever someone died I was there, whether it was an old spinster down the street or the father of four school-aged children whose heart gave out.

That's what I was thinking about during Joel's funeral. I had just given the eulogy-Mom wanted me to do it because I was a debater, good with public speaking and good with words.

It was easy to talk about Joel. You know how usually at funerals when people talk about how good the deceased was they're exaggerating? I didn't have to.

"Joel died the way he lived-helping others," I told everyone, even though they already knew.

I was dry-eyed and straight-faced for the whole thing, and as I turned to go back to my seat I wondered who was going to serve lunch. Whoever it was, I hoped they knew where the church tablecloths were stored, the ones that look all lacey but are really made out of plastic so they're easy to wipe down.

Uncle Mark was saying how sometimes we can't see the big picture, but God can.

Give me a break. How generic. He could have said that at a funeral for anyone. He was supposed to be talking about Joel.

I wondered if they would use centerpieces at the luncheon. Usually after funerals the church ladies cater a meal in the gym, and sometimes they decorate with these really putrid arrangements of dried flowers.

I hoped they wouldn't do that today.

Some high-ranking church guy was speaking. I didn't know him. He didn't know Joel. Listening to him didn't seem to have much point.

My mind kept coming back to the luncheon.

I could already taste what we would eat. Standard Mormon funeral fare: green Jell-O, potato casserole (the kind with cornflakes on top), chicken salad sandwiches on croissants. Cookies for dessert. That's the part I remembered most: serving cookies to the deceased's survivors.

Only this time the church ladies would be serving cookies to me.

August 18 Mood: angry X-( Music: Madonna This Used to be My Playground

Moving Day.

I don't want to talk about it.

August 19 Mood: disgusted :-u Music: Hymn #274 The Iron Rod

I hate going to church here. I hate the Knob Farms 2nd Ward.

I go to church with kids from the new neighborhood, of course-the golden boys and the so-totally-popular girls I knew at Haven High, back when I was just some genius-geek from the wrong side of the tracks. Now I'm in Haven, and I can tell by how everyone looks at me out the sides of their eyes that they wonder about me. Not just the going-crazy part, either, or the dead-brother part, but the how'd-a-family-from-West-Haven-afford-a-house-here part.

I'm sure everyone thinks it's some kind of mystery, like we had a huge life insurance policy on Joel (we didn't) or we sold all our earthly possessions (we didn't) or we went on church welfare to afford a bigger house (do I even need to say we didn't?).

The truth isn't so interesting: Dad had stock options in his company, and when it got bought by a bigger company about five years ago, we got rich. We paid off the West Haven house, put Joel in gymnastics, sent me to debate camp and Claire to regular camp. Sometimes I don't think Claire even remembers being poor, eating spaghetti with canned tomato sauce and knock-off Cheerios from a bag.

I do.

That makes it hurt worse, living here.

It's like we've left everything behind.

Same day, 5:32 p.m.

My mother said she hoped my stay at home would be like living in a "sanitorium."

She really said that.

Back then, my "stay at home" was in the house I'd grown up in with a family who loved me. Now I live with my sister who's scared of me, my dad who's barely home, my mother who's jealous of me, and the memory of my dead brother. In a seven-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bath "sanitorium."

With a pool.

I was scared to tell her I wasn't going to go to Smith this fall; that I was deferring admission. But I knew the deferring admission part would soften the blow: I had one year to get better, no more. That's what I'm doing this year. "Recovering," as Cathy says. I was afraid that when I told my mom about the decision, she'd lose it.

But she didn't. She said she was jealous. She said it so quickly I knew it was the first emotion she felt: jealousy. Not fear. Not concern. Jealousy.

I thought her first emotion would be embarrassment. I mean it's embarrassing to have your brilliant, accomplished daughter defer her college enrollment so she can stay home and "recover" from her psychosis. Isn't it? It definitely gives people a negative impression of our family. And for as long as I can remember, Mom has been telling us to make sure we "give people a good impression of our family."

Which was why I couldn't believe the poem she put on Joel's funeral program. Joel's favorite poem was this nursery rhyme he'd learned when he was five and memorized The Complete Mother Goose in its entirety. Joel always had a good memory, just like me. Anyway, you know that one about a different child born on each day of the week? Joel loved that. So it makes sense that it'd be sort of like, you know, an epitaph for him. Except that the last line of the poem goes, "the child born on the Sabbath day is fair and wise and good and gay." Yeah. Because it was Mother Goose, and written way before our time. Joel was born on a Sunday. So you figure it out. How does implying that your dead son was gay (not the case) give people a good impression of your family?

I don't know. I guess what other people thought of our family wasn't what she was thinking about, the same way it wasn't what she was thinking about when I told her I wasn't going to Smith. Right then, she was thinking that now I got to stay in a sanitorium and she wanted to stay in one, too. Maybe a brief stay in a sanitorium would have helped her combat her off-days. She's had those ever since I was little. And it made perfect sense to me. She wanted a break, too. After all, she never got let off the hook from living life because she was crazy.

At the time, I decided I would rather have her feel envious of my illness and treatment than I would have her be repulsed by it.

But today I'm thinking maybe that's why we're here now. In this house that feels nothing like our old house, like our home. We are in this place where we get up and go to bed and pretend to function. But really, Mom, and Dad, and me, and maybe Claire although I wouldn't know-we have all been let off the hook from living life.

And we're doing a bang-up job.

Haven is a narrow city, and from our new house, which is its highest point, I can see all of it. Out the back window I watch the sunset over the lake, brilliant shades of auburn-gold.

It reminds me of a book I read, about a girl who was crazy like me, only she was locked up for real. The chapter-heading read: "Every Window on Alcatraz has a View of San Francisco."

That's how I feel now: like I'm staring into a city that isn't entirely normal, but from a place that is much stranger.

August 20

I guess other blogs have links to other websites and articles and quizzes and stuff. If you are perusing my blog hoping to find such items, I recommend stopping here. There is nothing like that in this blog. There are no places to post comments. Honestly, I can't imagine why anyone would want total strangers (or worse, total acquaintances) to respond to their innermost thoughts. I don't want to know what anybody thinks about crazy me, or my crazy family.

I especially don't want to know what anybody thinks about Joel.

I just want to write it all down. If I were writing it for me I'd keep all this stuff to myself, but I'm writing it for Joel. Not that I really believe Joel is in some heavenly Internet café, checking out the blogosphere. But still.

I'm not doing it for you. I'm not doing it for me.

I'm doing it for Joel.

Same day, later Mood: calm :-| Music: Nature's Music Rain

I've reconsidered.

It took me awhile, but I reconsidered.

I'm posting an article. Even though I don't want to. I think Joel would want me to. I think Joel would say, "Tabs, tell them what happened. They need to know. But more importantly, you need to tell them."


Excerpted from THE WAY HE LIVED by Emily Wing Smith Copyright © 2008 by Emily Wing Smith. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Emily Wing Smith (Utah) has been published in writing anthologies and won the David O. McKay essay contest while attending Brigham Young University. Her writing has also appeared in popular magazines for children and young adults. She holds an MFA from Vermont College.

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The Way He Lived 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
vampire-adict More than 1 year ago
This book makes me cry everytime i read it. The real Joey was from Bountiful Utah and he really did die in the grand canyon from dehydration. The writer (i've met her) said she moved to Bountiful shortly after the boy died. She was amazed that this boy, in such a clique based town, was part of almost every clique. This book is about the people in Bountiful that were part of "Joey's" life and some of the people that missed him most. I loved reading this book and i plan on reading it again and again. The only part i hate is that it makes me cry.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be lyrical, bittersweet, and entertaining. A previous reviewer thought it was messy; I found it refreshing that not everything wrapped up perfectly and that the themes are not hammered over the reader's head. As a reader I found it rewarding to discover the ways the characters are linked to each other and the character who has died---the connections are subtle, not messy, and in my opinion, weaved together brilliantly. I also found the characters' ways of coping with the grief satisfying and believable, not "whiney," as the first reviewer said. Granted, this book is not for everyone; if you generally go for light and entertaining reads that follow a traditional plot arc, you might be disappointed in this book. The Way He Lived is a collection of tightly related short stories that as a whole paint a bigger picture, and the core of the stories is emotion, not fast-paced action. I disagree that there is anything "improper" in this book, only raw honesty that has the capacity to make some people uncomfortable but for others it will invoke empathy. For readers who relish stepping into other people's shoes and considering the weight of their secret pain, or readers who have experienced similar grief, this book will resonate. It did with me.
PaperbackReader More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. The characters seemd very real and I found it very easy to relate to each of them.

Given that this book is told from 6 different points of view, I think the author did a great job giving them each a distinct voice, and they each have their own story to tell. They all have their own way of dealing with death and loss and I think just about everyone out there can identify with one (or more) of them.

And there is a sense of mystery that unfolds throughout the book and totally kept my attention -- who is Joel ... really? did he commit suicide, or was it really a freak accident? was he gay, did he KNOW if he was gay? and if he was, did anyone else know?

The other thing I loved about this book -- it was so accurate when it came to the oddities in the Mormon culture, and yet it didn't shy away from some of the major issues that are often "taboo." For this very reason, I'm sure not everyone in Utah will love it, but I certainly did.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
THE WAY HE LIVED is about Joel, only Joel isn't around anymore. He died in a tragic camping accident. Those left behind are trying to make sense of it all and decide how to continue on without him.

Written from six different points of view, it reveals Joel piece by piece. His sisters, Tabbatha and Claire, tell what life is like for them since his death. Both are confused that their parents chose this difficult time to move the remaining family from the house where they grew up to a luxurious seven bedroom home in the high-end part of town. Their father throws himself into his work, and their mother, who always had her "bad days," seems to only find solace by locking herself away in her room and letting the family muddle on without her.

Emotionally sensitive Tabbatha gradually finds a reason to slowly move on toward a possible college life, and Claire has to run away before she is ready to come back and face what is left behind.

The other voices of the novel belong to Joel's friends and acquaintances. They include Adlen, Miles, Norah, and Lissa. Their stories link to Joel through direct personal relationships or by way of others connected to him. Each person has their version of this respected but slightly mysterious individual.

Much like our own lives, each person presents a unique picture to each different person with whom we connect. Can a true picture ever be created of anyone after they are gone? It seems only you might know the real you.

Emily Wing Smith is able to capture each personality. The flow and tone of each chapter is unique to the individual. She presents their pain and their fear of moving on without this missing person who so touched their lives. There is a feeling of true loss and sadness, but it is coupled with hope and the human desire to carry on.
BouncerGirl More than 1 year ago
I found this book at the bookstore and bought it because the author is a local writer. The story caught my attention immediately and held it through the entire book. The writing is superb. She has such a skillful way of capturing the culture in Utah. Most notable is the way she is able to divulge and bring such depth to Joel Espen, the main character, even though he is never actually in the book. This book is beautiful. I hope it wins awards, and I highly recommend this book to both teenagers and adults.
booklovinggirl More than 1 year ago
I love this book. The writing is strong, sparse, poetic, and beautiful. The author takes risks with style and voice that pay off wonderfully--and is in no way "messy." This book is made up of six short stories told from six diverse but equally strong voices. Each story has its own emotional development and climax, but each story fits together into a larger story that reveals who Joel Espin was and why he did the the things he did. This book poses a few interesting and thought-provoking questions without handing the reader the answers on a silver platter (nor by hammering them over the head.) Very well done.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Way He Lived by Emily Wing Smith*
Publication Date: November 2008
2 out of 5 stars

The whole community of haven is effected when sixteen year old Joel Espen dies unexpectedly of dehydration during a Boy Scout hiking trip. Joel was the ¿nice guy¿ in the neighborhood. The good guy who was always trying to save the day. He was now gone. The Way He Lived is told through six different perspectives who each have to deal with the lost of Joel and how they hope to move on.

I tried extremely hard to like this book. I even attempted to overlook the frequent comments about homosexuality and other improper matters brought up, but I still disliked the book. This book was a confusing mess of jagged edges without any pin point meaning. The Way He Lived was anything but well rounded. Unfortunately this book wasn¿t much of a book. I don¿t believe it was the author¿s intention but this book was just a mass of random thoughts at random moments that was uninteresting and most often confusing. Maybe if I was an actual character in the book I would understand what the ¿deep meaning¿ in the character¿s ¿moving on¿ actions really meant. But to me, the reader, it was just a jumble of improper nonsense and annoying regularity of self-pitying characters. I did not enjoy reading The Way He Lived.

Date Reviewed: October 25th, 2008