This emotionally-charged novel about three high school seniors who in the midst of planning their futures after high school are instead faced with present circumstances that force them to grasp what it means to make choices, take responsibility, and truly become an adult. Lani Kennedy has dreamed of becoming a nurse since her cousin Arie died of leukemia. Nothing will stop her from getting into the local nursing program. Dawson Burke hasn’t dealt with his mom’s death, and he’s angry at his dad for moving them to Windemere right before senior year. He grudgingly accepts that he must wait till graduation before he leaves. Sloan Quentin can belt out a song and knows that her band is her ticket to fame and fortune. When she discovers that her boyfriend—the band’s lead guitarist—is cheating on her, she finds comfort—and revenge—in someone else’s arms. When the lives of Lani, Dawson, and Sloan become entangled in unexpected ways, reality hits harder than anyone could have imagined.
The book is written in third-person omniscient, limited only by which character is being highlighted at the time. For instance, one chapter could be about Sloan singing with her band, leaving the readers guessing about Dawson and Lani, or vice-versa. McDaniel balances this all out quite nicely, which makes me care equally about the characters and keeps me curious as to what will happen next. The decision to use third-person point-of-view as opposed to flipping back and forth between first-person really aided the storytelling. It also made the ‘information dump’ at the beginning of the novel work organically and naturally, which oftentimes is disrupting in first-person narratives.
The story itself, however, is not for the fainthearted. It is very heavy and deals with traumatic situations, such as death, drugs, teenage pregnancy, accidents, and illness. The author, whose goal is to write “inspirational novels about teenagers facing life-altering situations…,” is quoted in her author’s biography, saying “I want kids to know that while people don’t get to choose what life gives to them, they do get to choose how they respond.” True to her intentions, she throws her characters in some of the toughest events a human can face. She does not sugarcoat the circumstances or her characters’ reactions. As a result, the characters seem authentic and relatable. In other words, the inspiration McDaniel’s achieves does not come from showcasing perfect behavior in the midst of tragedy, but rather from the fact that despite all the hardships, these people keep on living.
Ultimately, I would have loved to read more about Lani and Dawson at the end of the book and to have seen them a bit more settled by the conclusion. However, the final scene goes out on a very sweet and tender note with Sloan, leaving her in the process of “figuring it out,” like many of us. Overall, Losing Gabriel is incredibly cathartic for those who have faced similar problems. Moreover, it is well-written, full of heart, and absolutely worth the time it takes to read.