In the tradition of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl comes a hilarious, madcap, and quirky debut novel about a group of oddball teens struggling to find themselves when facing their own mortality.
The life of homeschooler Stevie Hart gets all shook up when she meets a strange boy, Max, who survived a freak near-fatal accident and is now obsessed with death. He enlists her and her best friend, Sanger, to help him complete his absurd “23 Ways to Fake My Death Without Dying” checklist. What starts off as fun begins spiraling downward when Stevie’s diabetes sabotages her fumbling romance with Max, Sanger announces she’s moving out of state, and then death—real death—cuts close to home.
It’s interesting that the blurb for this book compares it to Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. While I can see some common threads of interest (namely the contemplation of mortality), this is a very different book. First, no one in this story is actually dying. Next, the dynamics of relationships between the characters, the nature of their revelations, and the overall tone of the story is wholly different. Lucky Few is a funny contemporary that examines relationships, growing up, and the very nature of change through a sweetly morbid lens.
The story is eminently readable. From the first page it flows with self deprecating humor and charm. The chemistry and interaction between the three main characters feels natural and adds a rhythm to the story that is noticeable for its absence when the characters are apart. Stevie is wry and judgmental, but with a good nature and easy humor that easily endeared her to me. Her bff Sanger (presumably named for pioneering birth control advocate Margaret Sanger, so you know that’s the kind of book this is) is brilliant, pretentious (though somehow charmingly so), and fiercely loyal. Max is funny and weird (always a good combo in my book), and sweet. Meeting Max by way of finding his “dead” body does little in the way of preventing friendship, and, yes, romance.
I liked Stevie. I liked that she was reserved and judgmental. She felt real to me, and I connected with her in a way I rarely do with MCs. When Stevie looks on in wonderment/jealousy at how easily Sanger befriends Max, I found myself immediately identifying with her. “But this person is clearly crazy. He just faked his own death!” is pretty much Stevie’s internal monologue, and also mine. I think that Stevie’s judgmental side could be a turnoff for some readers, but it’s a necessary component for the character’s growth.
“Stevie and Sanger meet Max after he’s faked his death you say, Kim?” Yes, and yes that is odd. Having had two accidents in life that have taken Max close to death, he has decided to confront his fear of mortality by creating and enacting a list of “deaths.” Sanger is immediately delighted and signs both herself and Stevie up to help Max with his death list. Stevie is immediately wary and hesitant. The list is approached with an attitude of whimsy and adventure. The much more conservative Stevie thinks there might be more deep rooted issues that need to be addressed here.
I really loved the portrayal of friendship. Stevie and Sanger’s best friendship is a strong representation of what true love and loyalty between girls can look like, even in difficult times and going through disagreements. Unfortunately, I found the depth of Stevie and Sanger’s friendship overshadowed the role that Max plays both in being their friend and in being Stevie’s love interest. This might have stood better as a “friendship” book. I found the romance more of a distraction to the story’s exploration of death, relationships, grief, and the ever evolving nature of change in relation to friendship and what that change means at different stages in one’s life.
Max is a nice boy, and even though it happens quite quickly, the romantic connection between Stevie and Max is believable and never feels like instalove. It’s actually quite nice to see a reserved character like Stevie learn how to relax her guard and let a new person into her life. It’s a lovely bit of character development. But for as much as I intuitively understood Stevie, I never got a real grasp on Max. I understand his good nature and kind character. And I understand that his near death experiences motivate him with his list, but I wanted the story to dig deeper into his reasonings and motivations and have something ultimately more profound to say about it. View Spoiler » Though he does eventually figure that he needs professional help, this is only lightly touched on. I appreciate it being there at all, though. « Hide Spoiler
While I didn’t completely connect with this book on the emotional level I would have preferred, there are clearly many points I liked and appreciated about this work. I loved that it covers different/interesting ground than what is usually covered in YA. Stevie is home schooled and has diabetes. This is a story about a real girl facing very real, very typical problems and struggles.
It’s a tender story, and an intimate one. It’s about the real fears of watching the people you love change around you. And it’s about the bone deep ache of personal failure. I like that this book allows its characters to make mistakes and learn and grow from their failures. And I liked that the book doesn’t have a neat, tied up with a bow sort of ending. Like life. If you like funny, sweet contemporaries with strong friendships, and the occasional look at the more serious sides of life this is definitely a read for you.
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.