Genre: young adult fiction, contemporary
Published: August 23, 2022 by: Atheneum Books
Rating: 4/5 stars
CW: grief, drunk driving, death of a parent, death of a spouse, nightmares, alcoholism
*Thank you to the publisher for providing a review copy in exchange for an honest review
After his mother is killed by a drunk driver, Asher is seeking revenge on the man who killed her. He invites three members of his grief support group to accompany him on a road trip to Graceland, Tennessee, but he doesn't share with them that he is going to Tennessee with every intention to kill his mother's murderer. The three road-trippers include Sloane, a teen who lost her father to cancer, Will, who lost is brother, and Henry, the oldest member of the group at eighty years old, who is reeling from the loss of his wife. Together, this group of opposites embark on a physical and emotional journey that allows them to learn more about what connects them and how they can channel their grief into healing.
I wouldn't say that I read a lot of books about grief, so I didn't really know what to expect from reading this book. I have lost people before, but grief is such a complicated thing and everyone deals with it quite differently. I thought the author did something really unique by setting up the book around members of a grief support group, as I often forget that these types of groups exist and can be very helpful (but sometimes even hindering) for some people. I think that this book provided a great look at how different people decide to cope with their grief in either healing or self-destructive ways, and how healing is not about overcoming grief but rather learning to live with it. While some of the topics in this book are hard to get through, I ultimately thought that the author dealt with the subject matter in a sensitive way.
The book is mostly told from the perspective of Asher, a teen who vows to avenge his mother's death. While at first glance, Asher may appear as an impulsive and destructive kid, I think readers should remember that he is still a teen and therefore is not always going to think before he acts, especially when dealing with the loss of a parent. Asher has shielded away some memories about the circumstances surrounding his mother's death, and the book slowly deals with him accepting those memories and moving forward. However, moving forward is an extremely difficult process for him. I really felt for Asher, especially considering how common it sadly is for children to lose their parents to drunk driving (or vice versa). I appreciated Asher's transformation throughout the book and enjoyed reading from his perspective.
I liked how the author provided a range of age groups in the core four members of the road trip. For example, Henry's perspective on grief is entirely different from Asher's, especially considering his wife died through doctor-assisted suicide. I think Henry was a brilliantly complex character with a lot of wisdom to offer, and I loved reading about him and how he interacted with the other characters. Sloane and Will were also well-developed supporting characters, and each character overall provided something diverse to the book.
I really do enjoy road trip narratives, so that detail of the book was great for me. I liked how the book didn't just deal with the characters in their support group, but rather set up the rising action with them in the group, and then provided enough road trip content to keep the journey interesting. This book is also not always sad, and has a good mixture of comic relief mixed with serious moments.
The one thing I would say this book could have done better is enough context between the climax and falling action. The whole road trip revolves around Asher getting to the home of the man who killed his mother. But, once that happens, I found the book a bit rushed as it attempted to resolve all of the major issues. I didn't find myself particularly wowed by the climax and the events that followed, and I thought that more information to wrap things up towards the end of the book could have been useful.
Overall, I liked this read! It provided me with some of the tropes I like, such as road trips, but also helped me to learn a bit more about how different people experience grief. I would recommend this book for those who want to learn the same.
Emily @ Paperback Princess