Monday, February 11, 2008

Non-Fiction Monday:
Grief Girl: My True Story

Last night Dad told me they were crossing the road to go to a fruit stand when a speeding tow truck came out of nowhere and hit them.

Australian teen Erin Vincent was fourteen when she was half-orphaned on October 23, 1983. Only half on that day; her father survived the accident but suddenly died exactly one month later, never having left the hospital.

The three Vincent children, 18-year-old Tracy, 3-year-old Trent, and Erin, along with Tracy's boyfriend Chris, work to keep what remains of their family together. They are supported by a few neighborhood friends, but abandoned by many more. Tracy shoulders the parental role, Trent's the child, and Erin is somewhere in the middle. Tension and resentment builds between the sisters, their mother's parents (an altogether unpleasant couple) initiate a battle for custody of Trent, and their favorite uncle turns out be robbing the trust fund. As you can tell, Grief Girl is no rosy "how we bounced back" story. It's real.

Written in the present tense, there's a raw immediacy to the story that puts the reader inside Erin Vincent's life, and it's not a happy place to be. She's sure the accident is her fault, for thinking about it during angry times. There is virtually no emotional support for Erin, much of what is offered, she rejects as insincere, and what she finds, institutional powers try to forbid. For close to three years, Erin to bounces around inside her grief -- she's angry and sarcastic, she's disconnected, she pushes people away, and she's then alone, longing for connection. "I wish I could talk to someone who's been through it, someone who 'gets it.'" The writing is honest, she doesn't gloss over parental flaws -- her mom favored Tracy, and her dad sometimes had been physically abusive.

I'm not sure whether it's under-identification, or over-"getting it," but I finished the book feeling only so-so. This doesn't mean I don't recommend it. I do -- it's a real and powerful story, and everything that Erin went through speaks to the universal desire to connect, to be known and accepted. Erin's longing to find someone who "gets it" also expresses a need to find someone who "gets her." Everyone, in good times and bad, can identify with that.

- the
first chapter of Grief Girl at HarperCollins

- Erin talks about why she wrote Grief Girl & reads an excerpt
- biography, documentary, performance art, homage: a book trailer by Erin's husband Adam Knott

Grief Girl: My True Story was a 2008 Nominee for ALA's Best Books for Young Adults

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