Thursday, September 2, 2010

Review: The Snowball Effect by Holly Nicole Hoxter

The first line of the jacket copy on this book made me thing I was in for a quirky-dark family comedy of sorts "18 year old Lainey Pike can tell you everything you need to know about the people in her family just by telling you how they died." Death is serious, of course, but am I the only one who finds that to be a mildly amusing way to introduce the topic?

I've always had a morbid sense of humor.

The Snowball EffectLainey's family is unconventional - she hardly knows her older half-sister, Vallery, as she spent most of her life living with her dad. Her younger brother, Collin, is adopted and has behavioral issues ranging from being on the autism spectrum to ADHD. The three are thrust together to make a new family after their mother kills herself in the basement laundry room.

Lainey is angry and confused. At her mom. At her sister. Even at her long term boyfriend, who is kind and sweet and loving, even with Collin. But the end of high school marks a major life transition, even when half of your family hasn't dropped dead, and Lainey is wondering whether the path she's always had set before her is where she belongs.

Lainey and Vallery are definitely the best developed characters in the book. I kind of got frustrated with how little time was devoted to Collin - he's the whole reason Vallery comes into the story after all. His behavioral and/or developmental issues make communication difficult, but really no one, not even his teachers (who are trained to deal with emotional and developmental difficulties), questions whether his behavior may stem from grief and/or abandonment issues? The boy was adopted as a toddler, so he was in the foster care system for awhile before being adopted, and in short order his adoptive father and mother die violently (motorcycle accident and suicide by hanging). It seemed like sloppy character development, or lack thereof - throw in a character with a disability so the disability can stand in place of a personality.

On the other hand, I loved Lainey's romantic turmoil, between her long-term safe and stable boyfriend, and the rugged, drifter new guy she meets at the 7-11 when she doesn't have the cash for a Slurpee. What's great is Hoxter doesn't give us any easy answers - this isn't the classic love triangle with Lainey pining between the two boys. There's ambiguity here in the relationships and Lainey's feelings. So much YA ends with the lead couple declaring their undying love for each other - and while I don't doubt people feel that way at times, it seems like Lainey's dilemma must be more common.
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