Sunday, September 7, 2014

Torn Away by Jennifer Brown

This review was written by: B
Received: Library
Publication Date of Book: May 2014
Pages: 288
Stars: (4.5/5)

Growing up, we were taught over and over again what steps to take in case of an approaching tornado.  Listen for sirens, go to your basement or cellar, or a closet in the center of your house, duck and cover, wait it out.  We had drills twice a year, every year, in school.  We talked about it in class.  We talked about it at home.  The newscasters reminded us.  We went to the basement.  We practiced, practiced, practiced.  
But we'd never-not once-discussed what to do after.

Jersey is your average teenager, going through life just like anyone else her age.  Living with her mother, step-father, and half sister, it is safe to say that she is fairly comfortable.  Marin is her little sister (born of her step-father, Ronnie, a man who never truly opened up to or acknowledged Jersey).  From the start, their mother absolutely refused to let her daughters see themselves in
any other light than true sisters, a philosophy that they quickly picked up on and stuck with, but while Ronnie may be the lovable baby of the family, Jersey still has a hard time putting up with her when she is constantly bothered to dance with her or pay attention to Marin's demanding presence.  All Jersey wants to do is sit around, watch television, do homework, hang out with friends, and avoid dancing with Marin.  Little does she know, life and those in it shouldn't be taken for granted when you never know who is ensured tomorrow.

Living in an area of the United States forever known for its tornado warnings, there has never been a real or truly formed danger.  Sirens are always going off, warning of possible tornadoes that may or may not lead to disaster, and they have yet to lead to fruition.  Incessantly hearing them, it seems like a boy calling wolf more than he should. When Marin and her mother go off to the young girl's weekly dance class, Jersey is left alone like usual.  Ronnie is off at work, and Jersey's friends are busy.  Making herself some dinner, the tornado sirens monotonously go off once again.  Even though she's tempted to ignore them, she goes down to the basement as usual, expecting them to go retire soon like the other ones before it.  However, this is not the case.  Winds pick up, a storm brews, and a tornado touches down.  It travels past her very street, ripping her house from its very foundation.  Scared and bleeding from the swirling objects that are on the move, she cowers under the pool table, wishing for this horrible monstrosity to be over.  No one ever expected this to happen.  No one could believe what was going on, but then as soon as it started, this nightmare finally ended.

Frightened, hurt, and in shock, Jersey climbs her way up the basement stairs into a field of disarray.  Her home is in ruins, family treasures either broken, blown away, or missing.  The only thing she finds of value is Marin's special purse that their mother gave her after she got tired of it.  Jersey knows that Marin keeps all of her special mementos and treasures in it, including a stick of their mother's lipstick (the tip still pointy) and a collection of gum.  Marin made a stern promise with herself to never use these things except on special occasions.  They meant the world to her, but she was nowhere in sight.  Jersey's mind reels with the possibilities of the dangers bestowed upon her family.  They had to be safe right?  They just had to be.  Nothing could hurt them.  This shouldn't have happened.  This was an impossible occurrence, a freak accident that should not have happened.

Her neighbor and long time friend, Kolby, meet up and stare in blind wonderment at the tornado's after effects.  Together, the entire neighborhood clings together and begins to search for people in their ruins.  Jersey, too shocked to do anything, sits through it all and is washed by the newly falling  drizzle from the dreaded sky.  Soon enough, bodies are found, both dead and alive.  Surviving in her devastated home for several days, rarely going out to do anything, Ronnie suddenly returns home.  Neither of them can believe that the other is alive.  Still not having heard from Marin or her mother, she asks about them.  Ronnie finally tells her that there're dead. This blow is barely a register to the storm.  Her daze makes it seem so surreal.

"I could see it from the road," he told me, the two of us sitting in shadows in our motel room.  Neither of us had bothered to turn on the light.  Neither of us would bother to turn it on for the whole next day, either.  I think we were each afraid to see the other, afraid that our brokenness would become contagious if we shined light on it.  "I've seen videos of tornadoes before, but, Jersey, I've never seen anything like this.  It was huge.  Had all these little tornadoes circling it, too.  The thing was so big it looked like it could swallow the whole world."

Jersey was just a part of the package that Ronnie had to accept if he wanted to marry the woman he loved, a child that he didn't father.  His mental breakdown after all that he cherished is gone as as a result of the tornado, which doesn't include Jersey, leads him to get rid of her.  He says that he isn't fit for the job.  He just can't look at her anymore.  Yet again shocked, Jersey pleads with him to let her stay with him.  She has no where to go.  He's the only familiar thing she knows.  One of her friends is missing while the other can't help her, and Kolby left with his family for a safer location.  Then, she gets told the truth.  He set up an arrangement for her to live with her father, a man who was absent in her life from the beginning.  This unexpected news leads to quick resentment.  How did Ronnie have the right to dictate her life?  She lost everything, and he was throwing her away.  Meeting her father's parents, her father and his wife, and the rest of his family proves to be much more than she can handle.  The truth is, most of them are just not nice folks.  Being bounced from person to person, Jersey feels horrible.  No one she loves is around.  Countless people are telling her the same thing over and over again, "I'm so sorry."  To make matters worse, her father and his family, now her family, are supposed to love her, but the reality of her situation mirrors just the opposite.  They're nasty people who treat her like dirt.  What's Jersey supposed to do with no family, no love, and no hope?

Torn Away is now one of my favorite contemporary novels.  It was beautifully written and executed perfectly.  Every emotion that Jersey was going through was so easily felt and acknowledged by the reader.  I was practically in tears by the point where she was attempting to go her mother and sister's funerals.  Jersey simply wanted to tell them goodbye, but no one would let her.

I realized that the worst part of someone you love dying suddenly isn't the saying good-bye part.  It's the part where you wonder if they knew how much you loved them.  It's the part where you hope you said and did enough good stuff to make up for the bad stuff.  It's the part where there are no second chances, no going back, no more opportunities to tell them how you feel about them.

I was extremely shocked by this novel.  I've always wanted to read Jennifer Brown's Hate List but haven't yet been able to do so.  I really need to get my hands on a copy of it!  However, when I saw this book staring me in the face, I absolutely had to pick it up.  The cover was so stunning and beautiful that I couldn't help myself or even think of resisting.  Then I noticed that it was written by Jennifer Brown herself, an added bonus.  (Happy dance.)  In the end, I'm so glad that I did.  It was simply amazing and the story inside is just as beautiful as the cover art.  It's message rang true, and I felt for Jersey so deeply.  When she finally arrived at her grandparents' house, the area where all of their children still lived (including her father), was such a roller coaster.  I have to admit, I was quite surprised by how they acted towards her, but I suppose that was to be expected.  Drunken, unreliable, and destructive, her father came to her and told her that he would never love her.  He wasn't her daughter, and he would never be her father.  I was hit by devastation after devastation with this novel.  I loved it yet wanted to chuck it against the wall.  I felt so frustrated for Jersey.  How could all of these people care so little for her?  Couldn't they see she was hurting?!

Jersey alone was an amazing character.  The ups and downs she went through, her character development by the start of the tornado to the end was so lovely to see, and what really stuck with me was her devotion to Marin's memory.  Before she left for her mother's home, she took Marin's purse with the lipstick and the gum in it.  Eating a piece of gun every once in a while, she wrote down an important aspect or memory of Marin on the wrapper.  She stored all of these mementos in a pocket of the purse, keeping them so that she would never forget.  If only she had danced with her once, like Marin wanted.

My heart was broken and mended all due to this single book.  While I was tempted to give Torn Away a four star rating, I couldn't bring myself to do it.  While I struggled with this, I finally decided that the reason behind this novel and its thought provoking theme/question that we are presented with throughout its entirety was a gem of its own.  It had to be given a little more credit than that.  I loved it: What does it mean to lose everything?  When is hope truly gone?  Can it ever really disappear?  If you lose your house, your possessions, and loved ones, does that mean you have nothing left?  Can there be someone out there caring for you still?  Can you really just give up on yourself?  This was what Torn Away was all about.  Jersey was the embodiment of these hard hitting questions.  Perhaps she's right.  Maybe there is a relief in the known, even if the known is ugly, or maybe the ugly can be turned into something stunningly beautiful.

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