Ann Hood’s new YA novel finds hope in mourning

Book Reviews

This review was first Published May 22, 2023 in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

It’s a difficult thing to say that a book about a child with depression who has attempted suicide is an enjoyable read — yet that’s how author Ann Hood makes the unthinkable happen.

She does this while also conquering the art of time travel. Through deft writing, Ms. Hood manages to capture the despair and exhilaration of childhood while not forgetting those gaping chasms in the spaces between.

We meet Clementine two years after her younger sister Halley dies. We cringe as Clementine’s mother tries to stop the tailspin that happens to both of them, and we empathize with her, even as Clementine acts out.

The thing is, we feel for Clementine even more.

As her friends change around her, with first kisses, boyfriends and academic growth, she remains irrepressibly stuck in mourning; she moves like molasses when she moves at all. Her depression is real and those who have lived it will recognize it. Some days she doesn’t leave bed. Most days she is alone and lets the reader see the train-of-consciousness that has become her sorrow.

This grief is masterfully balanced with the personality of many adolescents: dramatic, witty and snappish. She is funny — sometimes intentionally, sometimes not — and deeply sad with seemingly no bottom to the depths. Some of her friends are compassionate angels who help her move through her grief and guilt. Some make her life more hellish.

It is both amusing and difficult to look at those moments, as high school days are for many people.

This book tackles difficult issues like grief but also allows adults to remember exactly what it’s like to be young again, for better or worse. Adults might find themselves nodding, as if they, too, were leaving the eighth grade to attend a scary new school.

Aimed at ages 10 and up, this book will make young adults feel right at home while Ms. Hood gives a master class on how to get inside the heads of young people. Clementine gets to do many things we’ve all wanted to do: talk back to teachers and skip school, for example.

The cast of characters that weave in and out of her life as she visits various doctors who try to help her is entertaining (like the young girl in a residential program who obtains Clementine “contraband” in the form of pizza, with deadpan seriousness).

Ms. Hood wrote about the loss of a child in her novel “The Knitting Circle” and again in her memoir “Comfort: A Journey Through Grief.” In her 2021 novel “Jude Banks, Superhero” she examined grief from the perspective of a sibling, as she has done here. (Those who read “Jude Banks” will appreciate his cameos in this book.)

Perhaps she’s able to make it look effortless because Ms. Hood’s own daughter, Grace, died in 2002 following a virulent form of strep. She has lived this anguish. Still, flipping her own script from the adult to child’s point of view takes considerable skill and courage.

Ms. Hood knows that everyone experiences grief in their own way. Through Clementine and her friends, the reader will recognize that truth. Clementine grows fond of Emily Dickinson during a school project and clings to some lines from the poem “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers”:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers —

That perches in the soul —

And sings the tune without the words —

And never stops — at all

The reader will root for Clementine to find that thing with feathers. It is that same sweeping feeling that helps the book move and flow along, like the unstoppable forces that hope and joy are.

Meredith Cummings is a freelance journalist and teaching assistant professor of journalism at Lehigh University.

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