Nelson's writing has its own cadence, a rhythm. This book reads like poetry to me, more so than do most poems I've read. Her writing both held me captive and frustrated me. Part of her style includes the use of poetic license with regards to sentence structure that make seriously not poetic me crazy. However, the writing fit Lennie's character so completely perfectly that I do not think this book could have been powerful any other way.
Speaking of Lennie, I am really torn on her. On the one hand, I totally identify with characters who feel boring and lovable, and spend their lives comparing themselves unfavorably to others. If there's something that captured the feelings of my teenager years, that's definitely it. Plus, my heart ached for Lennie's grief over her sister Bailey's death. I really felt her pain and could sense how much was missing. This came through especially powerfully in her little notes that she left everywhere, which, I think, were a good portion of why I liked her so much.
On the other hand, though, Lennie does some unforgivable things, and, much as I want to forgive her because grief can do a number on a person, I don't think I can. Yes, I could see how she made the decisions she did, but I feel like lots of people can get through their grief without doing that stuff. She cheats and she lies, and I really don't feel like she deserves her happy ending, even though I sort of wanted it to come. Basically, I'm conflicted. I really just wish the plot hadn't had to revolve so much around infidelity.
What I loved most about this book was seeing Lennie come alive, even though she did so many idiotic, awful things. Only through her sister's death has she been able to flourish, too content with following along in her sister's shadow until forced into independence. Bailey's death wrought a strange change in Lennie, taking her from a girl with little interest in boys to a hormonal, horny mess of a girl. I really loved this, because it is so rare to read novels about girls with healthy sexual appetites. Usually, they're so virginal and pure, so that made such a refreshing change.
The other characters really stole the show, though: Gram, Big, Joe, Gram's garden. Gram and her garden reminded me a bit of Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen, with the sort of magical realism to her garden. Gram is completely quirky and sassy and loving, and just the best guardian ever; Lennie and Bailey's mom may have run off, but she still has a very present family in Gram and Big.
Oh, Joe. He's so incredibly, marvelously, wonderfully himself. Unlike the usual YA guys, he does not aim for mysteriousness or brooding. He's endlessly optimistic and smiling, always happy to help in any sort of crazy scheme. Joe treats everyone with kindness and is incredibly open about his feelings. Plus, he's a complete and total band geek. Quel swoony, right?
For now, this book wasn't perfect for me, but I will be holding on to my copy and revisiting Lennie's story some time in the future, because this might be one of those books I need a second reading to truly appreciate.