I won an ARC of this book in a Goodreads Giveaway.
This book and review deals with both bullying and suicide.
Oscar is missing. The only people who don’t think he killed himself are his best friend Meg and his little brother Stevie. Meg feels guilty because while she was in New Zealand making new friends, Oscar was at home miserable. The story switches back and forth between the POV of Meg and Oscar as the story progresses and slowly reveals what happened to Oscar.
I had so many issues with this book. So first, Oscar is not dead. It’s not really a spoiler; the second chapter is from Oscar’s POV and it starts out with him saying he didn’t die. He attempts to kill himself, survives and then complains about how the people looking for his body don’t spend enough time searching. Oscar has no plans to return home and intends to hide out for the rest of his life – Oscar is kind of a jerk. In a rush to set up the events leading to Oscar's attempted suicide the author fails to really establish her main character, so I'm left wondering why should I care about this character who complains about how little he's loved while his brother goes down to the pier everyday looking for him.
None of the characters in this book came across as likeable, but the way the female characters were presented left me feeling a little uncomfortable. First we have Paloma, she reads like a sociopath. Fair enough. In a book about bullying you do need a bully, but then we have Paloma’s mom, Kate Collopy, Meg, and a very judgmental Mrs. Gilhooly. Paloma's mom, going by Oscar’s description, is exactly like her daughter and extremely predatory. The school counselor, Kate Collopy, is so horrible at her job it should be criminal. And honestly, I wasn’t that impressed with the treatment of Meg throughout the story. Compared to the male characters, specifically Barney, Mr. O'Leary and Stevie, it sends an unpleasant message to the reader.
Of course, my main issue with this book is the way bullying and suicide are handled. Going by the end of this book, the author believes these problems can be fixed by the love of a girl. There are so many issues with that thought process, I could probably write an entire paper on it -- I won't. The issue that stands out the most to me however, is that the author linked Oscar's "recovery" and self-worth to whether or not his best friend loves him. So as a reader, I have to wonder, what happens when they break up in two or three years? Meg and Oscar are teenagers in high school. While it's quite possible they might grow up and stay together, the more realistic outcome is that they'll grow apart. Does that mean, two years from now when Meg decides she wants to date other people, Oscar will try to kill himself again? His belief that Meg didn't love him wasn't the only reason he tried to kill himself, but if he doesn't deal with the underlying cause -- I see nothing at the end of the book that indicates he will -- he'll just end up back where he was before.
I also hated how the author seemed to send the message to readers not to talk to somebody when dealing with issues of suicidal thought and bullying. One of the hardest things to do when you're dealing with either, is seeking out help. By presenting the school counselor as so incompetent at her job, I honestly wonder how she even got it, she discourages kids in real life from seeking out the help they need.
After all the other issues I had with this work, this is a minor complaint, but the dialogue is entirely unrealistic and painful to read.
"How cruel! The way that bollard stands hard and solid and insensitive, just as it must have done when that poor boy flung himself in."
"Everyone has their special skills," he'd say, "and one of yours happens to be a strong intuitive sense of the aerodynamics and contact requirements of disc-shaped seashore skimming stones."
Maybe there are people in real life who actually talk like this, but every character should have their own distinct voice -- they should not all sound the same. Those two quotes were two different characters speaking, one of them a teenage boy and one an older woman. Thankfully there is very little dialogue throughout the book. So with all these issues I gave this book 1 1/2 stars. I kind of get what the author was going for, but honestly I feel like this was very poorly executed. I also wish, given the subject matter, the author had included some resources in the back of the book for suicide prevention.