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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this novel deals with a teen getting hit by a car and ending up in a coma, and how this impacts her family. The topic of death is handled sensitively and realistically, but it may disturb some readers. Characters talk like real teens, which means some cursing and irreverent discussions. Teens trespass to swim in backyard swimming pools (presented as a fun thrill); there are brief mentions of teen sex (in a committed relationship); and alcohol use by teens.
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What's the story?
Natalie plans to spend the summer working as a lifeguard, hanging out with her friends, and preparing to miss her idolized older sister, Claire, who is leaving for college. But everything normal suddenly ends when a car accident leaves Claire hospitalized in a coma. Natalie wonders how she can cope, when the person she most wants for support is her big sis.
The \"would you\" game Natalie plays with her friends -- asking questions like \"Would you rather lose all your hair or all your teeth?\" -- turns somber: \"Would you rather just die, or be alive and seriously brain damaged?\"
Is it any good?
It's easy to be deceived by this slim novel, either by appearance (a light read, divided by subtitles into brief vignettes) or by subject (a depressing story about death). It is, in fact, neither light nor depressing, but heartbreakingly realistic, with devastating insight into how one teen endures a tragedy. Eleventh-grader Natalie and her friends are believable teens, with true-to-life dialog and situations (as Natalie notes about her friend, who works at their hang-out restaurant, "It bites to wait on your friends.").
The author never veers into saccharine or falls for easy solutions. She finds exactly the right note even at the end, which isn't happy or sad: It just is what it is. "If you stick a hopeful ending on there, it'll be a total lie," Natalie says. There's no message about drunk or irresponsible driving; it's a pure accident on all accounts, despite the family's wish for someone to blame. Natalie's engaging narration (the private room at the hospital is "really just the Bad Effing News Room") helps her -- and the readers -- bear the unbearable. As she tells her comatose sister, "Even fathers break. It started with you, Claire, the one broken person. But there is never only one broken person."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about some of the heavy topics presented here, including organ donation and making end-of-life decisions. If families have not tried the "would you" game, it makes for interesting dinnertime conversation, as each person around the table poses a moral (or gross-out) dilemma (for example: "Would you rather eat a rat with the fur still on or eat sewage straight from the pipe?"). As the book explains, "The point is to have options that are not options."