The Theory of Everything
Author: J.J. Johnson
Source: Review copy from the publisher specifically for the Cybils
Ever since her best friend Jamie died in a freak accident, Sarah's been on a downward skid. Her grades have slipped, her snark quotient has gotten cranked up to 11. All her other friends have drifted away, and even her ever-patient boyfriend, Stenn, is starting to get fed up. And her parents, well, they've waved the end of their rope bye-bye a long time ago.
Sarah knows she's got to get a handle on her life and her relationships before she ruins all of them, but every time she gets close to feeling good, she feels as if she's betraying Jamie's memory. She knows Jamie wouldn't have wanted her to be sad forever, but how can she possibly be happy without her best friend?
I openly admit, I hadn't heard of this book before it got a finalist slot in the Cybils. I read the author's first book (This Girl is Different) and liked it, but oh, god, a girl grieving the death of her best friend? Pass the Kleenex, we're in for a long night. I prepared myself for Bad Behavior, Meaningful Conversations and/or Blinding Revelations, Deep Connections with others who've Been There, and possibly a New Love.
Then I started reading, and I realized that I was in more capable hands than that.
What I liked best was how Sarah took responsibility for her own recovery. She makes an effort not to be so snarky, she tries to reach out to other people instead of pushing them away, and she really works at being a better person. She even takes a job at a Christmas-tree farm to make amends, and she defies her parents to do so. She does this not because she has a Blinding Revelation or a Meaningful Conversation, but because she's been aware of her downward trend ever since it started. When she makes the reasoned decision, (quite early in the book, too!) that she needs to start dragging herself out of the pit, she works at it. She isn't great at it, especially at first, but she tries and sometimes succeeds, and it's from that place that her life starts to get good again.
There is a Wise Old Mentor character, Sarah's boss. He's a little stock. But he's also one of the first adults in awhile that trusts Sarah to do things that are hard for her, and in a way, that's the theme of the whole book. Pulling herself out of the darkness and back into life again is the hardest thing Sarah has ever done. It may be the hardest thing she will ever have to do. But ultimately, she is the one who has to do it.