Title: Hyacinth Girls
Author: Lauren Frankel
Release Date: May 12
Source: Crown Publishing on NetGalley (A copy of this book was provided to me in exchange for an honest review.)
Check this book out on Goodreads.
Thirteen year old Callie is accused of bullying at school, but Rebecca knows the gentle girl she’s raised must be innocent. After Callie is exonerated, she begins to receive threatening notes from the girl who accused her, and as these notes become desperate, Rebecca feels compelled to intervene. As she tries to save this unbalanced girl, Rebecca remembers her own intense betrayals and best-friendships as a teenager, when her failure to understand those closest to her led to tragedy. She’ll do anything to make this story end differently. But Rebecca doesn’t understand what’s happening or who is truly a victim, and now Callie is in terrible danger.
This raw and beautiful story about the intensity of adolescent emotions and the complex identity of a teenage girl looks unflinchingly at how cruelty exists in all of us, and how our worst impulses can estrange us from ourselves – or even save us. (Source: Goodreads)
When Rebecca gets the call saying her best friend’s daughter, the girl she’s raising, Callie, has been bullying people, everything changes. Rebecca has to struggle to understand what has happened to Callie, what she has or hasn’t done, and what has or hasn’t been done to her. All this time Callie is also struggling against the hardships of her teenage years and the truth of her family’s past. Can they save Callie from herself and from her peers before it’s too late?
I tried to give myself some time to digest this book, and even still I’m not sure how I feel about it. I think it was well written, with strong characters. I thought the format was unusual, with mixed reflection from Rebecca and truth from Callie, but strong. I thought the plot was good if sometimes a little hard to follow. The trouble is this book was like a black hole, it left me completely and utterly depressed and I’m still feeling it days later. Even with the spark of light at the end, the whole book was so overwhelmingly depressing I’m still struggling to cope with it.
The book is largely from Rebecca’s point of view as she struggles to understand what is going on in Callie’s life. There are sections later in the book from Callie’s perspective that fill in the gaps and really inform you of what Rebecca misses or misunderstands. I think this format really highlights the gap and the sense of miscommunication between this mother-daughter pair as they both struggle to cope with the changes in their lives. I thought this format was highly effective and created a good sense of suspense. It sort of hooks you in, not knowing what Rebecca misses about Callie’s life. I found the book to be a really quick read because the story is constantly moving forward and keeping you interested.
I wasn’t a huge fan of Rebecca as a character. I think overall the character development and writing was well done, but I struggled a little with Rebecca. She was too childish to me, her behavior mimicked Callie’s in a lot of ways, especially as she tried to comfort her or assist her early in the book around the bullying incidents. I think she was too much of a friend and not enough of a guardian despite constant references to her being this sort of general-like enforcer of rules, which never really showed itself. I think there was a fabulous sense of relationship between Rebecca and Callie which was only improved by showing these huges gaps of understanding that they kind of miss and ignore in each other. There was a great depth to their relationship because of this.
This book tackles some pretty big, very heavy topics – bullying and suicide. I think Frankel handled them well. I think the bullying was a little unclear at times and I found it hard to follow, but it got fixed up with the introduction of Callie’s POV later in the book. I think Frankel really dealt with the issues with tact and concern and created a really strong sense of the devastation and hardship of the realities of bullying and suicide. In a lot of ways this book reminded me of All the Bright Places which deals with fairly similar issues. I think the one thing I found hard in this book though was the overwhelming sense of depression throughout. It honestly left me shaken and terrified and feeling far from whole. It wasn’t a pleasant read.
Overall I liked this book. I can’t rate it higher because I think it’s kind of damaging, it damaged me in a way the sense of hurt and devastation in this book and it would be hard for me to recommend this to a lot of people because I would be worried about that hurt finding them too. I think it’s a wonderful read, but one you need to take on with the understanding that you won’t come out unscathed.