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YA, Contemporary, 254 pages, Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
- Series: stand-alone
- Pub date: July 26th 2011
- Disclosure: Received a copy in my giant ALAN box of books. Thanks!
Keek’s life was totally perfect.The Long...
Keek and her boyfriend just had their Worst Fight Ever, her best friend heinously betrayed her, her parents are divorcing, and her mom’s across the country caring for her newborn cousin, who may or may not make it home from the hospital. To top it all off, Keek’s got the plague. (Well, the chicken pox.) Now she’s holed up at her grandmother’s technologically-barren house until further notice. Not quite the summer vacation Keek had in mind.
With only an old typewriter and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar for solace and guidance, Keek’s alone with her swirling thoughts. But one thing’s clear through her feverish haze—she’s got to figure out why things went wrong so she can put them right.
I remember a poetry month at a library long ago, a colorful display full of thick books and thin ones and chapbooks and hardbacked classic editions and paperback small press local poets. Because I was eleven or twelve, max, I picked up Sylvia Plath's collected poems thinking that she fell into the latter category: unknown, and all mine. I've never read The Bell Jar, but the memory of how soft and sweaty her poetry felt in my hands has never left me; And Then Things Fall Apart brought me back all over again.
In Keek, Tibensky has perfectly captured that delirious summer that we all face in which everything has meaning just for us, personally. In schizophrenia, that's called a referential delusion. When you're a teenager, it's just life. Of course, there are the real high fever deliriums in this story, too--but the metaphor hangs heavy over everything.
What makes And Then Things Fall Apart so excellent is how well it functions on both levels: literary allegory, and teen-next-door. Keek is the sort of smart, sassy, brooding, artsy, effortlessly popular conflicted teen we all knew at least once in our lives (and often wished we could be), with the timelessness of Holden Caulfield and her heroine, Esther Greenwood. She is both archetype and flesh and blood, and we can't help but fall in love with her and her problems: parents who can't stand each other, a former best friend who slept with her dad, a grandma she doesn't understand and a boyfriend who's ready to go all the way, even though Keek's not sure she's ready.
While Tibensky does a fantastic job of juggling subplots and taking them all to a logical, satisfying conclusion as Keek grows in herself and in others, she does an especially fantastic job of capturing the not-entirely-unpleasant tension of teen dating. Not since Sarah Ockler's Twenty Boy Summer have I read such a terrific YA virginity story with shades of Judy Blume, from the tingly sexy scenes to all the crushing doubt and guilt that follows. The great thing about And Then Things Fall Apart is its refusal to caricature the boyfriend: he's not a perfect dreamboat, nor the kind of abusive asshole that makes us long for a breakup. He's just a teen boy, a little awkward, a little confused, a little young.
I'm awed again and again by how well certain people seem to be able to hold on to being young, and put it into words so well. I still am a teen, and the words are slipping out of my reach just the same. In Arlaina Tibensky we've found a fresh and lovely voice to bring us all back to adolescence once again.
...and the Short:
Sharp, witty, sexy, sweet, and brimming with adolescent awkwardness and angst by turns, Arlaina Tibensky is a fresh new voice I can't wait to see more of.
The Final Word: Loved it!