Lucy’s life was going as smoothly as any teenager’s could. She was in the local swimming club, and loved it; she lived with her parents and her brother, Cam, in the small coastal town she’d known all her life. She had friends, she had goals – she had a life. Now Cam is dead, her parents might as well be – and Lucy can’t bear to get back in the pool. All she has to look forward to now is a big pile of going-nowhere.
Drawn to Steffi, her wild ex-best-friend who reminds Lucy of her mysterious, unpredictable brother, and music-obsessed Evan, the new boy in town, Lucy starts asking questions. Why did Cam die? Was it an accident or suicide? But as Lucy hunts for answers she discovers much more than she expects. About Cam. About her family. About herself.
This is an incredibly beautiful and heartbreaking story. Doyle has told a captivating tale about loss and discovery and trying to find your place in the world through Lucy and her journey through grief in the aftermath of her brother’s death.
Doyle’s language is wonderful and descriptive; it is sensitive and forgiving but also rough when it needs to be. The imagery is lovely and her words describe the pain felt by everyone and the darkness that has seeped into them all. My favourite line was early on where she writes “She looks up at me and I wonder if she’ll look at me like that for the rest of her life: all hollow like she’s been dug out by a spoon.” Despite being Lucy’s story, Doyle also makes it everybody else’s as well; we feel their pain and torment, their refusal to acknowledge and their struggle to accept.
This is still very much Lucy’s story and her investigation into what really happened to her brother, but it’s also a moving story about how loss can affect families and those who are left behind. Lucy is trying to be strong for her family and keeping to a routine helps her as much as anybody else, but when that’s disturbed by her aunt moving in you realise Lucy’s been distracting herself from her grief as much as everybody else has been too.
Doyle explores the numerous reactions and symptoms of grief, those who succumb to it, those who try and find distraction, those who run, and those who feel unstable and never settle, wildly going through emotional extremes. Lucy is definitely someone who is unable to settle. She doesn’t have the answers she wants and there are new mysteries that keep coming up which send her further from any definitives. So much is happening around her and you really do understand why she wants answers, and why she doesn’t want to share her secrets.
Part of my love for this story was the characters. They really bring this story to life because every one of them is their own unique person with their own history and background. Even simple remarks and observations can tell you so much about who these people are and let you know that they may be hiding something, or not as fine as they claim to be. They feel like real characters, people who could be in your life who have problems of their own and different life experiences to your own.
Doyle’s expression of Lucy’s family is certainly admirable for their intensity and emotional complexity, but a lot of focus must be on the others as well. Lucy’s friends Steffi and Evan bring some relief to both Lucy and the reader, but its clear Doyle hasn’t made these two any less complicated or real. Steffi is a girl doing her own thing, never caring about what others thought, but you know there is something beneath the surface. Evan is much the same, he is cheeky and clever, you do fall a little bit in love with him, but he is also lost and feels neglected, whether he’ll admit it outright or not. As much as Cam’s death propelled this story, in a way it is also the characters themselves that is pulling you through it. You get caught up in following their lives and interactions, becoming invested in who they are and the lives they live, even if many of these interactions are as a result of Cam’s death. Which possibly makes no sense, but it’s kind of true I think.
The reason why I think this story feels so real is because the uncertainty of general teenage life is mixed together with the grief. Lucy looked up to her brother, he taught her things and included her in his life, hence her understandable sorrow. But between her sadness a budding romance wedges in, as well as a resurfacing friendship and struggling to discover where she fits in the world. All of this pushes its way through demanding attention and Doyle shows Lucy’s inability to cope remarkable well, you see her being pulled in so many directions and she doesn’t feel she has anyone to turn to for help. But what makes her so admirable is that she often perseveres regardless, she finds a way to enjoy herself and keep going.
It also feels so real because Doyle’s writing places you in a scene. You are on the pool block, you’re riding through a coastal town, walking through the city streets. Her words include you in the lives of her characters and you may as well be a fly on the wall, experiencing alongside them. Landscapes and locations are woven into the narrative and through Lucy’s eyes we hear her story but also see her world as well.
There really is so much to adore from this book, from the vivid descriptions to the wonderful familiar feeling it produces from reading about places you know and recognise. There are secrets to uncover and shocking suspicions, combined with fantastic characters this is a story that will keep you immersed from the first page until the last.
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