Nothing quite says tragedy like the Ides of March, so it’s fitting the books in this week’s book club were all released around the anniversary of Julius Caesar getting stabbed in the back (and front. And side). It’s almost spring, but we need to get over winter first with one last ugly cry. These three cathartic volumes all deal with the nature of grief and loss and will keep you spellbound until the last, tear-stained page. If Adele doesn’t turn on the waterworks for you anymore, have no fear; these books will with their combination of humanity, heart, wit, understanding, and pain that hurts oh so good.
1. The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo ($26): Meredith Oliver’s family is having an ugly-cry year. First, a terrible accident on the baseball diamond leaves her brother Evan, a high school baseball star, with a crushed eye socket. Then, middle schooler Meredith, who can’t get the doctor’s “imagine stepping on an ice cream cone” explanation of the injury out of her head, finds herself at the scene of a kidnapping, only to be rejected in favor of another young girl. It may seem strange to look at avoiding a kidnapping with anything but gratitude, but the incident in the Deli Barn leaves Meredith shaken and doubting her self-worth.
“It had all been downhill since fifth grade. Sometimes Meredith looked back on that golden year and felt a pang of nostalgia so keenly that she thought she might actually die.” Meredith is sick of the cliques that are endemic to middle school, and Lisa Bellow represents them at their pinnacle. Blonde, 15 pounds thinner than Meredith, and dating a “beautiful boyfriend,” Lisa is the one who is taken from the shop while Meredith sips her soda. Meredith becomes obsessed with needing to know why she wasn’t worthy and grows more and more distant from her parents as she tries to puzzle it out.
Perabo (Why They Run The Way They Do) alternates the novel’s voice between Meredith and her mother, Claire, as the former frets and the latter tries to mend her fraying family. There’s plenty of heart and no-nonsense humor, but if you remember teen angst (or you’re still having it) and the pain of not believing in your own worth, you may find yourself in need of a tissue.
2. Follow Me into the Dark by Felicia C. Sullivan ($17): In her groundbreaking work, On Death and Dying, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross both established the now-famous “Five Stages of Grief,” while postulating that the fear of death is passed on from generation to generation; how we handle death around our children, she suggests, is instrumental on how much they will grow to fear it. This is under normal circumstances; if death is particularly shocking or tragic, if suicide or murder or abuse is involved, there’s no telling what damage can be done.
Felicia C. Sullivan’s new book is all about grief and the grieving process, but unlike the linear narrative of Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief, it pulls together nonlinear moments from three decades of violence, untreated mental illness, and the broken family in their wake. We read about Kate stuck in stage two anger, an all-encompassing rage, at the teenager having an affair with her stepfather as Kate’s mother suffers from terminal lung cancer. Her mother’s suicide blinds Kate, causes her to boil over instead of gaining closure, and the novel’s spare and poetic (and often profane) language helps us experience Kate’s loss and the terrible crimes she perpetrates as a result.
“I Imagine my mother’s suffocation: her love strangled in her body in life, and her regret, rage, and hurt contained in a small box carrying her to the afterlife,” Kate says. With chapters like “Flammable Women” and “The Business of Leaving,” Follow Me into the Dark is a truly dark novel. Read it with the lights on.
3. In-Between Days by Teva Harrison ($16): Literature about illness and the philosophical outlook that often accompanies it is nothing new. The heartbreaking scourge of cancer has inspired volumes from Wit to The Fault in Our Stars. Teva Harrison’s diagnosis of advanced metastatic breast cancer at 37 was devastating for the artist, but she found comfort in putting ink to paper. “Back home, all worked up and raw, I started to draw my worst memories, my lived nightmares,” Harrison writes. “An exorcism of sorts. I found myself drawing dark, primitive comics, and then I’d feel a bit of peace. Once the story was outside of my head, I could let go a little.”
A finalist for Canada’s prestigious Governor General’s Literary Award, In-Between Days is a graphic memoir that, through a series of comics and short essays, explores the hereditary nature of cancer and her loss in the genetics lottery, but also her winning ticket of support, in particular from the man she would soon marry. It takes a look at the terror in facing your own mortality, as well as your ethical limitations (Harrison, a staunch vegetarian, decided after much debate to try an experimental treatment that had been tested on animals). Mostly, though, Harrison details what it’s like to live life “entirely in the in-between spaces,” where “it’s hard to know — at any given moment — how close I am to the edges.”
Le Tigre’s Kathleen Hanna praises Harrison’s work, saying “No one writes about illness like this, it was hard to stop crying (in a happy way) because I felt so understood.” We hear you, Kathleen. Experience with illness or not, this memoir is likely to be cathartic for anyone who can agree with Harrison’s claim that “The unspoken is the most frightening.” By getting things out in the open, you may ugly cry, but the human connection you’ll feel will be worth it.
What books turn on your tears? Tag us in your next weepy read @BritandCo.
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(Featured photo via Getty)