A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that there is plenty of darkness (mental illness, grief, suicide) but also plenty of humor and ultimate hope in Without Tess. Pixley paints a compelling portrait of both the beauty of the magic fantasy world Tess and Lizzie share and the dark, out-of-control side that leaves 10-year-old Lizzie more and more bewildered as people ask "What's wrong with your sister?" and she doesn't know how to answer.
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What's the story?
Teen Lizzie Cohen's life, and that of her whole family, has been in freefall since the death of her older sister, Tess, six years earlier. The two shared an extraordinarily close bond and many adventures in a magical world of Tess' creation, but the arrival of new friends brings Lizzie different interests and possibilities. Told partly in the present and partly in retrospect, the story gradually reveals Tess' disintegration and its effect on those who love her, and how they come to heal.
Is it any good?
Pixley's previous novel, Freak, scored high praise for perfectly capturing various aspects of the adolescent-girl experience, and here again, her voice and attitude are spot-on. When not writing novels for young adults, Pixley is a middle school teacher. The quality of her writing is excellent and engaging, and she's not afraid to grapple with such issues as mental illness and self-destructive behavior at a level that's challenging but age-appropriate.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about mental illness -- how it affects those who suffer from it and those who love them.
Families can talk about the power of charismatic leaders to make people believe in alternative realities. Tess believed so strongly in her visions that she not only saw them herself, she also could, to some extent, make Lizzie and Niccolo see them, too. This gave her extraordinary power over Lizzie, in particular. Have you ever known anyone who exerted this type of power -- to make you believe something you normally wouldn't, and act upon it?
Tess did not want to be cured of believing in the reality of magic, no matter what the cost. Do you know people who cling that strongly to their positions or beliefs, in spite of the consequences, or evidence to the contrary?