Sunday, June 2, 2013
Review: The Survival Kit by Donna Freitas
Title: The Survival Kit
Author: Donna Freitas
Rating: 4 Stars
The Survival Kit is written for the readers who painstakingly shy away from issue novels; from the inevitable pain and hurt and pure emotion that they bring. While Freitas's novel is beautifully written, capturing the emotions of grief and heartache in a seamless manner and integrating within this story a romance that is both deep and palpable, the inevitable "punch" that is common to most grief novels - you know, that moment when it seems as if the wind has been knocked out from you and the floor has fallen beneath you and all of a sudden your vision is blurry with pooling tears - never comes. Unfortunately, sometimes all I want is a real kick to my gut; a true feeling that reminds me that my life isn't all that bad, that my own feelings don't matter in the realm of this book or this character. Although The Survival Kit evidently deliver in the way I wanted it to, I can't say that I've regretted a single moment I spent with this breathtaking novel in my hands.
Arguably, the beginning of this novel is the weakest. Although its first few pages are gripping - a funeral, a dead mother, a survival kit put together by a dying mother to help her daughter cope - the following chapters are forgettable. As is Rose, our main character. Until, that is, the story suddenly picks up and before I knew it, the pages were flying beneath my fingertips. While Rose is inscrutable and hidden to us at first, after the initial slow start, she slowly blooms, opening up to the reader and becoming strikingly real. Not only does her narration become far more accessible, de-cluttering from the previous tiresome passages of description or introspective boredom, but her journey truly begins as well. Once Rose begins to take that first peek into the survival kit her mother made her - full of items such as an iPod, a star, or a box of crayons - and then makes the conscious decision to survive life, not just get by, I began to love her. Honestly, there is nothing I love more than a protagonist who is willing to take her future into her hands and mold it. While Rose was still grieving heavily, unable to return to cheerleading or listen to music, I love that she allowed others to help her. Whether it was her grandmother who became her rock to lean on or her best friend, Krupa, who lent her her hand and shoulder whenever she needed it, Rose slowly began to emerge from the shroud of depression.
As a character, Rose is three-dimensional and real, never succumbing to unnecessary drama and proving to be every bit as real with others in her life as she is with the reader. And while her support system is incredible, that doesn't mean her life isn't falling apart. For one, her father has resorted to drinking away his problems, unable to cope with the death of his wife. Furthermore, her older brother, Jim, is struggling in his own way. While Rose was able to slowly handle her mother's death on her own and with the help of her friends, seeing her come to a full circle and help her family heal together was a touching journey. All too often, grief novels neglect others in their portrayal of one individual's grief, but I'm glad that Freitas gave ample attention to the grief of a father, a son, and a daughter with this one. Furthermore, Rose is not the only grieving character in our tale. Enter: Will. As the gardener in Rose's home, Will has been overlooked quite often - until he suddenly isn't. For me, the greatest strength of this novel lies within its love story. Will and Rose's blooming romance is slow, deliberate, and utterly adorable. Seriously, the swoons and "aww!"s will just keep coming when it's about these two. And yet, their relationship was real and went through hurdles that were realistic, not contrived. All the more, Will becomes a truly in-depth character as well, proving to be more than just the love interest of our tale. Freitas's integration of both the romance and self-growth in this novel was beautifully rendered, all with the theme of the survival kit in the background.
Still, not all is perfect in this novel. Honestly, I can forgive a novel for a slow start, but what I cannot forgive are the mixed feelings. As I mentioned before, I was seeking a punch with this one - one that never came although I expected it to. Additionally, though, I felt as if some aspects of Rose's life were just too convenient. For one, her cheerleading friends - and Krupa - were supportive all the time and while this is ideal, it isn't realistic. As much as we'd all like to be that perfect friend, life happens. We have good days, we have bad days, we have days when we can't deal with a moping, depressed friend, no matter how bad their life is. For me, these friends were rocks for Rose, but never characters in their own right. Where was their depth? Furthermore, Rose's mother is also cast as an angelic figure in this book. And although I understand the need to create a perfect image of a deceased person, the truth is, people are not perfect. And I doubt Rose's mother was too. What happened to the classic mother/daughter arguments that are characteristic of teen years? Where was the guilt, the anger, the betrayal? Surely, not all of that could have been lost simply because Rose's mother had cancer. For me, small aspects like this one went a long way into making the overall impact of this novel suffer.
The Survival Kit, though, is one of the rare beauties that contemporary has to offer. On a rainy afternoon like this one, Donna Freitas managed to capture - and hold - my attention long enough for the pages of her unexpectedly little-known novel to pass by. And although The Survival Kit is not perfect and often left me swinging between feelings of pure elation from one minute and disappointment to the next, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. Not at all.