I have a real resistance to liking this book. I wasn't a big fan of White Oleander, and that was an Oprah book, which turns on part of my snob brain in a way that isn't particularly fair.
On the other hand, I am particularly sensitive to depictions of grief these days, when they aren't saccharine or sentimental. And this book had that.
And more than that, it had a main character who was grieving who wasn't someone we would often see as deserving of grief, as if grief is something that can be deserved or forfeited, based on life choices. Josie is the drug- and alcohol-addled, white trash, punk rock girlfriend of Michael, a wealthy young man who fled his family and life, and finally his life, by suicide.
This book is the story of her grief, and her anger, and her bewilderment, and her guilt. It is not watered down. She takes refuge in substances, lashes out at those around her, gets to know her boyfriend's mother in ways comfortable and uncomfortable.
It felt real. It felt like, yes, this is grief, this is real, this is how someone might react. And it made me think about who we consider the bereaved, who we seem to think is deserving of comfort, and how easily someone like Josie might be dismissed. As she herself says, "what was it about having enormous advantage that made tragedy seem so much more tragic?"
But Josie refuses to go away. She is the centre of the book, suffering through the aftermath of the suicide, through a shocking betrayal by Michael's mother that took my breath away. She tries to find comfort, to find solace, or even just oblivion. Her grief isn't pretty and her world isn't pretty, but she grieves, deeply, and who is anyone to say she doesn't deserve to?