More Letters From Dead People
Mom and Dad moved us to a school because they thought it was better... They gave us swimming lessons and cycle helmets and self-defense classes and a balanced diet... They promised us five grand on our twenty-first birthdays if we never smoked. And still one of us died.
Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine
I don't have as much to say about this little gem as I did about Me, the Missing & the Dead (which, I now know, is marketed as Finding Violet Park in the UK), but not because I loved it any less. Maybe I'm just not feeling so wordy today :p Maybe I think the book sort of recommends itself. In any case, I had to make a mention of Broken Soup, having decided to find more of this author's work (and, consequently, ordering most of it off of Amazon!)
This novel features a female protagonist whereas the last thing I read my Valentine features a male protagonist (so I suppose you can disregard my speculation as to why adult female authors prefer the adolescent male narrative?) The protagonist is Rowan Clark who, along with her six-year-old younger sister Stroma, is caught in the crossfire of a tragedy that hits her British family of five.
Broken Soup has all of the things that Finding Violet Park has, all of the things that make Valentine's other novel great: strong, quirky characters; mystery; odd and random plot devices that turn out to be neither so odd nor at all random (such as, in the case of Finding... an abandoned cremation urn, or - in this case - the negative of a photograph that is somehow simultaneously Rowan's and not). There's a love story that is nicely developed without taking center-stage of the story, eclipsing the more interesting elements of the tale, and so is very charming. There's family dynamics and character growth and the crazy twist that seems inevitable in a Valentine novel, I'm thinking.
In other words, I recommend this book as strongly as I did the last. And in case this is helpful in persuading you as much, below are a couple of random excerpts of the story.
Read them! I'm hoping someone else will discover this author and love her too as I'm about to begin my third Valentine novel (The Double Life of Cassiel Roadnight. Tell me that doesn't sound like something I'd read!)
Mum rolled her eyes and moved toward the stairs like her whole body was glued down, like it was the last thing on earth she felt like doing.
I watched her and thought what I always thought - that the old Mum was trapped inside this new one's body, helpless like a princess in a tower, like a patient on the operating table whose anesthetic's failed so she can't move or call out or let anyone know. She just had to watch with the rest of us while everything went horribly wrong.
With everybody out of the room and all my jobs done and a moment to think, I remembered the boy in the shop and the negative that wasn't mind. I got it out to have a look. I'd never really seen one before. It was folded over on itself and covered in teh dust that lives at the bottom of my bag. It seemed so out of date, shinier on one side than the other, its edges dotted with holes, a clumsy way to carry a picture. I held it up to a lamp.
It's hard to adjust your eyes to something that's dark where it should be light. It was like looking at a sea creature or a mushroom until I saw it was an open mouth and I was holding it upside down. The mouth was pale where it should be darkest, toward the back of the throat. That's about all I could see, an open mouth filled with light and two eyes like eyes on fire, the pupils white, the irises shot through with sparks against the black eyeballs.
It was a face pushing out light from within, beaming it through the eyes, the open mouth and nostrils, like somebody exhaling a lightbulb.
When Jack and I were little, Mum and Dad were always doing stuff with us. Mum would be sitting on the sofa waiting when we got home from school. I thought that's what she did all day, sat and waited for us. Dad built spaceships and palaces out of cereal packets and egg boxes. She made me spiral jam sandwiches by rolling the bread into tubes and then slicing them up. He made curries so hot our eyes streamed and water tasted like fire.
We felt like the center of the universe, I guess because we were the center of theirs.
With Stroma they were the same. Everything was always covered in icing or sequins or paint. Dad found her a bike at the dump and restored it so it looked brand-new. He took her for a ride every evening when he got in, even when he was dead tired, even if it was just around the block. Mum made her a fairy outfit one Christmas and stayed up until two in the morning hand-stitching pink ribbons onto the wings. They created treasure hunts and dance routines and made gingerbread men. They never stopped. Jack and I called them the kids' TV presenters, and laughed at their sweatpants and the paint in their hair. We said they should have more self-respect and act their age. We were just jealous because we weren't the center of things anymore. We were just joking. We were just mean.
The day Stroma was born, when we went into see her, Mum said it was astonishing how much love there was in the human heart. She said she thought we'd filled it, me and Jack, but here was a whole nother room with Stroma's name on the door.
They must have lost the key. Because now I was the one who spent hours picking Play-Doh off the sofa and toys off the floor. It was me who discovered the instant healing powers of a Band-Aid and how many peas Stroma would tolerate at any one meal. I did the hugging and the singing and the bedtime stories. It wasn't Mum or Dad who skipped down the street yelling "We're going on a Bear Hunt! We're going to catch a big one!" anymore. It was me.
But I was never as good at it as them. And I didn't want to be doing it, not all the time, not just because there was no one else, and that must have showed. I wasn't Mum and Dad, and when Stroma threw a tantrum, you knew it wasn't just about her bathing suit or the bath mat from her dolls' house or the brown bit on a banana. It was because everything had caved in on top of her and she'd had enough.
I knew already there was no such thing as a normal family. You might think you've got one, but something always happens to prove you wrong. There were kids at school worse off than us, way worse - that's what I kept telling myself. And I knew my parents were good people. It wasn't their fault something bad happened to them.
But after Jack died, they protected themselves by refusing to love us, the kids who had dying still to do. And it fell to us to keep ourselves alive until somebody remembered we were there.