“For the first time in my life, I didn't feel envy…” Tess is the exact opposite of her beautiful, athletic sister. And that's okay. Kristina is the sporty one, Tess is the smart one, and they each have their place. Until Kristina is diagnosed with cancer.
Suddenly Tess is the center of the popular crowd, everyone eager for updates. There are senior boys flirting with her. But, the smiles of her picture perfect family are cracking and her sister could be dying. Now Tess has to fill a new role: the strong one. Because if she doesn't hold it together, who will?
And here is Layla's review:
For readers who are reminded of Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, you’re not far from the mark. Both novels share a focus on the relationship between two sisters, and how illness both alters and reveals a family’s dynamics. But the comparisons end there. Picoult’s novel concentrates on family members’ responses to daughter Kate’s illness; Gurtler’s novel, on the other hand, is very much Tess’s story. She’s trying to balance her own desires – to join the school’s Honor Society, to win an art contest, and to make out with cute boys – with those of her insane family, who have always been more focused on Kristina, and are now obsessed with Kristina’s illness to the point of neglect.
Tess’s narrative voice was the strongest part of the book for me. There’s a little pettiness at her older sister (“I wonder if my perfect sister lied about not doing it and got herself pregnant. I hope not. I know I’ll be stuck changing diapers. And rubbing lotion on her fat belly to avoid stretch marks on her flawless skin”), a lot of anger at her parents, as well as moments that made me tear up a bit (“I want to tell her that she’s brave and I love her. But I don’t know how to say it. Talking about things is not what I do”).
What didn’t work for me, though, was anything that happened outside of Tess’s head. I wanted more backstory on her relationship with her sister before Kristina’s illness. (If their relationship changes in response to Kristina’s illness, I wanted to know what it was changing from). More importantly, their parents were pretty much the most terrible people ever – reading about them was exhausting and made it difficult for me to finish the novel, which could have been subtitled Everyone Is Terrible to Tess.
And I get that illness brings out the fault-lines in this family – but her parents are one-dimensional, and are there largely as a foil for Tess, who spends much of the book taking care of everyone and yelling at her mom and dad for being terrible parents. Her anger isn’t unjustified – at one point, Tess’s mother tells her that Tess should have been the one to get cancer because she’s useless anyway (and this is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to her bad parenting. Seriously, I have never hated a character so much).
Additionally, and I’m not sure how to cover this without being spoilery, but the last third of the novel seems dedicated to making sure that things get as shitty as possible for both Tess and Kristina. Their parents have reached untold depths of awfulness, and the narrative becomes increasingly maudlin. Both Tess and Kristina have to suffer through devastating emotional and physical losses (which is not necessarily unrealistic), but these plot-points seemed like an afterthought intended to make the characters suffer even more. There’s also a surprise twist at the novel’s end (again, not unlike My Sister’s Keeper), and I didn’t like it here, either.
However, this is also Gurtler’s debut novel, and her writing is really strong. The novel wasn’t precisely to my taste, but I’d recommend it to people who enjoy Jodi Picoult or Nicholas Sparks or, um, Lurlene McDaniel.