Book Review: Some of the Parts by Hannah Barnaby
For months, Tallie McGovern has been coping with the death of her older brother the only way she knows how: by smiling bravely and pretending that she’s okay. She’s managed to fool her friends, her parents, and her teachers, yet she can’t even say his name out loud: “N—” is as far as she can go. Then Tallie comes across a letter in the mail, and it only takes two words to crack the careful façade she’s built up:
Two words that had apparently been checked off on her brother’s driver’s license; two words that her parents knew about—and never revealed to her. All at once, everything Tallie thought she understood about her brother’s death feels like a lie. And although a part of her knows he’s gone forever, another part of her wonders if finding the letter might be a sign. That if she can just track down the people on the other end of those two words, it might somehow bring him back.
Hannah Barnaby’s deeply moving novel asks questions there are no easy answers to as it follows a family struggling to pick up the pieces, and a girl determined to find the brother she wasn’t ready to let go of.
Let’s just jump straight to the last thing I wrote in my review notes: SO. GOOD.
Tallie’s not really sure how to get on with her life after her brother is killed in a car accident. She wants to try to return to normal, but it’s hard to say what that even means anymore. She thinks maybe relying on some self-selected rituals will help, but they’re not doing much. She knows everyone looks at her and sees death. She’s not the same person she was before her brother was killed—how could she be? Her best friends now completely avoid her, her parents are grieving in their own private ways, and Tallie’s holding on to so much grief, guilt, and anger that even pretending for a second that “normal” is possible is ridiculous. At least she has her friend Mel to distract her. Mel shows up when she needs a diversion and keeps her entertained with her brash ways and weird interest in taxidermy. Tallie’s not the greatest friend back to her, but she kind of gets a pass right now if she comes off a bit self-centered. Then there’s Chase, the new guy in town who has the odd hobby of maintaining a scrapbook full of tragedies as a way of memorializing people who will never have biographies written about them. He and Tallie become friends, though neither are completely honest with the other at first.
It would be enough to figure out how to navigate life after losing her brother, but when she learns that he was an organ donor, Tallie’s focus takes a new turn. Knowing there are pieces of Nate still out there in this world, Tallie becomes obsessed with contacting the recipients of his organs and stops at nothing to achieve this goal. Tallie lies and schemes, roping Chase into her plans, not really sure how things will pan out.
This gut-wrenching story is beautifully written. Barnaby writes so movingly about the very complicated experience of grief. Having lost my own dad in a car accident a few years back, I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to make it through the book and give it the full attention it deserves. But, like Tim Federle’s wonderful The Great American Whatever, the grief depicted here is so raw, nuanced, and compelling. Tallie’s a mess—we see that as the story reveals details we don’t immediately know and as her quest pushes her to the edges of what she can handle. Barnaby’s novel is a devastating and powerful look at grief, guilt, and how to survive the aftermath of something that changes who you are. A must-read.
Review copy courtesy of the author and the publisher
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 02/16/2016
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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