Saturday, July 07, 2012

Book Review: One Moment by Kristina McBride

Book: One Moment
Author: Kristina McBride
Published: June 26, 2012
Source: review copy from publisher via NetGalley

It happened in a moment. Maggie was finally taking the dare to jump off the cliffs into the swimming hole, helped (prodded?) by her beloved boyfriend Joey. She was all ready to do it. But then . . . only Joey took the jump, leaving Maggie alone on the cliff. And Joey jumped wrong, bashed his head on the way down, and died before the paramedics arrived.

Maggie is immediately sucked into a quagmire of grief. The close circle of friends that she and Joey shared are barely able to help her, lost as they are in their own sorrow. But as Maggie begins to surface, questions arise with her. Why didn't she jump? Why did Joey? Why does it seem as if he had secrets that so many of their friends knew and she didn't? And why can't she remember the last few moments before Joey took his fatal dive?

Basically, this is a grief novel. It doesn't break any particular ground, though I do like the realism of Maggie's grief, the waves and troughs of it, as well as the slow implosion of the friend group that has suddenly had its center ripped out. I also liked the amnesia aspect, when Maggie's broken heart protected her from the full onslaught of the truth until she was ready to handle it. We all know what really happened before Maggie does, but she needs to come to it gradually. No argument there.

Why I'm writing this review . . . Go away, spoilerphobic. There are spoilers here.

I'm starting to realize that endings are actually pretty darn important. Well, I always knew they were important, but the capacity of an ending that doesn't quite work to ruin the whole book is mind-boggling. I was really liking this book, until the end. Because what happens is that Maggie discovers the Big Secret: that Joey had been cheating on her for a long time with their friend Shannon, and their other friend Adam knew all about it. This is not itself a horrible thing, as far as the story is concerned. Clearly as far as Maggie is concerned, it's pretty bad. It's also unfortunate for this group of friends, which falls apart under the strain (and gets unrealistically patched up at the end), but what follows is what drove me nuts.

One of the themes of the book is that Joey wasn't perfect. He was a fun, engaging kid, but he was so far from perfect. And yet Maggie loved him. A lot of people loved him. To me, that was a good place to leave it. That was a great place to leave it. Nobody's perfect, after all, and part of your first love story is coming to terms with that, in one way or the other.

Except it didn't end there. At the end (the real one) we find out that everything that was ever good about Maggie's relationship with Joey was false. Everything. He stole it all from somebody else. Specifically, from Adam, who has had feelings for Maggie for a long time.

So the end of this book is not about coming to terms with Joey's flaws. It's not about Maggie understanding that she had loved an imperfect boy, one who made mistakes but died before he could grow up and make them right. It's not about learning to forgive somebody who's not around anymore.

Instead, Maggie simply writes Joey off as unworthy and transfers all her love to Adam. This is the boy who kept secrets in order to spare her (which anybody knows makes it much worse in the end), who constantly pushed her away when she tried to reach out to him, who chickened out on ever expressing his feelings, and yet he is held up as the worthy one. I think he even used the words "I deserve you," which set off my ranty feminist a-girl-is-not-a-prize rage.

The worst part is how completely unredeemable Joey becomes. By the end, he has no positive qualities whatsoever. You can't figure out why Maggie loved him, why Shannon (the Other Girl) loved him, or even why Adam cared enough to keep a promise to him. You finish the book wondering why you spent all that time grieving with Maggie when he so profoundly wasn't worth it.

I can recommend maybe 3/4 of this book. You'll have to tell me what you think of the end.

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