I read The Book of Laney a few weeks ago and it has stayed with me in ways that are too strong to ignore. First and foremost, this is an intense book. It's about the aftermath of a school attack and the protagonist is the surviving sibling of one of the shooters. I'm writing that here even though it's not in the book's description because I think you need to know what you're getting into with this one; not in a trigger warning kind of way but more in a "hold on tight because it's going to freak you out a wee bit" way.
So yeah, no warm fuzzies and cuddles in Laney's world.
After the shooting, Laney's life is turned upside down (this is not a surprise). She ends up with a distracted social worker in the care of the state and then is off to her grandmother who lives in upstate New York on the outskirts of a small town in a house that is off the grid. Laney will be primarily homeschooled, attending high school classes only ever couple of weeks. She will be completely surrounded by people she does not know, in the care of a woman she barely ever met in a place that is not home. She will be incredibly alone and on top of everything else that happened, this isolation terrifies her to the extreme.
Author Myfanwy Collins handles the heavy emotions really well here. She paints a picture of Laney's brother (through her eyes) that is realistic and sad and frightening. Laney is confused in all the ways readers will expect but she's no wimp; she has to handle the mess her life has become and she can because her life has been cruising towards this mess for awhile and thus she is not entirely surprised that it has blown up (although the manner in which it did was obviously a shock).
I did have some problems with the supporting characters however. Laney's grandmother is almost a cliché as are others in the book such as classmates Marshall, Linda and Craig. There is little nuance with these teenagers; each seems to exist for the sole purpose to force Laney's behavior in one way or another and there is little surprise about who they are or what they will do. This is disappointing as Laney herself is so interesting.
Also, Collins works a bit of a paranormal aspect into the plot with Laney experiencing visions, which allow her to see the lives of the living and dead from their own perspectives. It seems like a shortcut and reduces the need for actual discussions between the characters and I found it to be a bit clunky and convenient. It's okay, but with so much realism in the plot, suddenly gifting the protagonist with handy visions to answer a bunch of questions was a bit of a stretch.
But, but, but....I have been thinking about The Book of Laney for a few weeks now. It is powerful in some very important ways and Laney is such a great character. I think a lot of teenagers will identify with her pain and the many ways in which she has been stuck living at the whims of others until it is almost too late. So this is most certainly a worthwhile and quite compelling read that I think has some significant things to say about family.
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