Friday, February 17, 2017

Book Review: If You Were Here by Jennie Yabroff

The blurb as seen on Goodreads:
Release Date: January 2, 2017
Publisher: Merit Press
272 Pages

Is there a line between gifted and insane? How do you know if you've crossed it?

Tess was semi-successfully passing for normal before her mother's erratic behavior turned her into social cyanide. Now life is only bearable thanks to weekend 16 Candles and Oreo binges with her best (and only) friend, Tabitha. Then Tabitha inexplicably drops Tess, leaving her alone with her fears about her mother and the troubling visions that leave her shaking with dread. Before Tess can come to terms with this loss, a horrific tragedy occurs at school, and everyone is blaming her. Now, Tess must find answers, fast: What really happened that night at school? Is she responsible? And do her visions mean she has a gift of prophecy, or the same mental illness
that is stealing her mom?

Jennie Yabroff's debut novel touches on the meaning of friendship, loss, and mental illness. All of her life, Tess has known she was different. She was an outcast, a freak and she had one friend, Tabitha. After visiting her Grandmother over summer, Tess comes back to find that Tabitha has changed. She's no longer the frizzy haired, sister outcast that she was before. This new version of Tabitha is skinnier, tanner, and dresses like the popular girls at school. Not only that, she's dropped Tess in favor of those horrible popular girls. Feeling abandoned and alone, Tess dives further into herself. You see, no one but Tabitha knows what Tess has to deal with at home. Her mother is suffering from mental illness and her erratic behavior had Tess & her father constantly on high alert. Being able to escape to Tabitha's was Tess's only lifeline. Now she has no one. And then Tabitha dies.

Tess was a little hard for me to like. She's very abrasive and sometimes just not very nice. While complaining that she was alone and an outcast, she also made no effort to break out of that shell, at least not until forced to. She ran very hot and cold which is why for a majority of the book, I thought that Tess also suffered from some sort of mental illness. But all of this added up to a teenage girl who was dealing with things out of her control and was handling it the only way she knew how. Internally.

Yabroff does a good job setting the high school scene. For a lot of people, memories from high school are not pleasant ones. The hierarchy's of the popular crowd down to the shunned are very distinctly defined. But Yabroff also emphasizes that what you are in high school doesn't necessarily define you. And I think that's a very important message.

I love a good mystery and so the circumstances surrounding Tabitha's death were intriguing and I found myself trying to solve the case before the secret was revealed. I thought I had it, but then was completely wrong.

However, there was one thing that just didn't sit well with me and that was the magical realism aspect. At first, I thought it was there for a different reason and I was all proud of myself for figuring out what the author was doing, but then I was wrong. And it was just an aspect that was never really explained in way that, for me, fit the story. It seemed to take it from this serious topic and move it into some parallel fantasy. I don't know. I saw some other reviews where people really liked that part, but it just didn't do it for me. Hence, the 3 Stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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