February 20, 2012

Is there life—and love—after death?

By Jess Rothenberg
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In this sweet, albeit heart-wrenching debut, 16-year-old Brie Eagan dies from a broken heart just after her boyfriend declares he no longer loves her. Devastated and bitter, Brie ends up in a funky pizzeria, an odd limbo, with a few other souls who aren’t ready to move beyond the hereafter. There she meets the charming and sarcastic Patrick, who helps her navigate the afterlife and accompanies Brie as she spies on the living. But when she discovers painful truths about her friends and family, Brie’s actions become her undoing. (At one point, she crashes a Halloween party and terrifies her ex-boyfriend.) When she unexpectedly meets a long-lost friend, Brie has the opportunity to return to her old life for one day—but at a great cost. As she reluctantly moves through the five stages of grief, all the while trying to piece together the fractured lives of those she left behind, Brie discovers that life is too short and too precious to deny those who love you.

Set against the backdrop of a misty San Francisco, this tragic tale of a life cut short never borders on morose (as one could expect) but is rather hopeful and celebratory. Brie’s first-person narration is often light and funny. She’s a fan of Kate Winslet and cheesy '80s songs. She and Patrick banter like Sam and Diane or Chuck and Blair, which only turns up the heat on their suppressed feelings and intensifies the swoon-worthy romantic twist at the end. Despite all this, the author still manages to tackle tough issues such as teen suicide and social isolation that will strongly resonate with the target audience.

With The Catastrophic History of You and Me, her impressive debut offering, Jess Rothenberg shows great promise as an author worth following.

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The Catastrophic History of You and Me

The Catastrophic History of You and Me

By Jess Rothenberg
Dial Books for Young Readers
ISBN 9780803737204

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