Title: Come See About Me
Author: C. K. Kelly Martin
Rating: 4.5 Stars
I've taken to fleeing inside a closet whenever I hear the term "New Adult." It's a shame as I believe the genre has a great deal of potential, particularly because of the age group it's confined to. Thanks to hordes of mis-marketing when the term was first coined, however, New Adult will forever be associated with vapid heroines, hunky heroes, and dramatic situations. Not only does the genre manage to completely gloss over the complexity of the first adult years, but it also becomes increasingly predictable, the final pages of a book more cloying than satisfying.
Come See About Me, on the other hand, is a far cry from the dozens of novels hitting shelves these days. From beginning to end, this book drowns you in a sea of complex emotions, its prose evocative and strangely compelling, despite its subject matter. Moreover, while Martin's stark realism can be difficult to swallow at times, it is a much appreciated slap into reality. Come See About Me won't be a book for everyone, but as a reader who actively seeks gritty novels that are deserving of their "realistic" tag line, this novel was a godsend.
Martin's first foray into adult literature is not a simple piece to get into. Within the first few chapters of this novel, we are introduced to our narrator, Leah, and the heart-wrenching realities she must face every day. Bastian, Leah's long-time boyfriend, has only recently been killed and, unable to cope with his sudden death, Leah has moved to a small town on the outskirts of Toronto known as Oakville. I wouldn't be surprised if many readers were turned off by a sample of this novel, merely because these first pages are hard to read. Martin's writing pulls you into Leah's head, which is a dark and depressing place. And while Leah is drowning in emotion, caught up in her grief and pushing the rest of the world aside, her feelings seep into your skin.
For me, this is a testament of Martin's writing skills. Although I can't say I enjoyed the beginning of this novel, it was powerful, ensuring I was wholly invested in Leah's tale. And, don't you doubt it, Come See About Me is Leah's story, through-and-through. While the synopsis for this novel relies heavily on the romantic components, in reality, the romance is an after-thought. Martin's novel instead explores Leah's gradual healing process as she learns to cope with her grief and move on into the future - on her own.
I feel as if I cannot emphasize this point enough. I'm so used to seeing couples in books heal one another that it was such a pleasant surprise to see good-old time and thought heal Leah. Following Bastian's death, Leah is unable to move forward and the worry of her close family and friends - their expectations, really, that she get on with life and not allow this event to derail her future - is suffocating. Instead of complying with their wishes, Leah moves away to be alone and though her apathy to the world still exists, it slowly begins to wear away. Martin paces Leah's growth impeccably and, moreover, I particularly love the small decisions Leah begins to consciously make, whether it be reviving a friendship she has neglected or just forcing herself to eat dinner with her neighbors. Though Leah doesn't want to let go of Bastian or his memory, she does - however subconsciously - want to live again and the slow manner in which she re-discovers pieces of herself is beautiful.
Come See About Me also offers a surprisingly diverse cast: old lesbian neighbors, a Korean best friend whose younger sister breaks under the expectations of an immigrant household, an African American family who is wealthy and educated unlike the typical stereotype. Best of all, though, these inclusions never feel forced. Whether it be a traumatic plot thread or these atypical characters, their presence throughout the novel never jolts the arc of the story and only enriches it. Moreover, they contribute greatly to Leah's own growth and acceptance of her life after Bastian's death and the friendships that Leah sustains are real; messy, often difficult to maintain, but true in their affection.
Nevertheless, what I love most about this novel is that there are no heroes in it; just normal people doing their best to live with what's been given to them. Leah never romanticizes Bastian and though the two had a healthy and sustainable relationship, she acknowledges his flaws and the fact that her grief is, in large part, for the future they would never have the opportunity to share. Moreover, the relationship she strikes up with Liam, an Irish TV actor hiding away in tiny Oakville to escape problems of his own back in Dublin, is shockingly unromantic. Both Leah and Liam are at difficult stages of their life, but the purely physical companionship they find in one another quickly spirals out of control. Although neither of them want another relationship - and reiterate that their interactions are strictly temporary - they nevertheless feel very real, especially as what was meant to be un-complicated becomes increasingly complex over time.
Martin, however, never compromises Leah or Liam's troubles for the sake of the other. Neither is able to provide the comfort or support the other needs, emotionally or mentally, which makes what they share so much rawer and difficult to place a label upon. It isn't a classic tale of a broken hero and heroine who find it in themselves to reach out and heal one another. Instead, the relationship between Liam and Leah remains one of friendship and intimacy, but of a distant kind as neither is ready for something more "real". While the novel is narrated from Leah's perspective, though, it is impossible not to feel strangely close to Liam. Granted, these two lack the familiarity of sharing a bathroom cabinet or knowing how the other feels from their tone of voice, but the glimpses of hurt and pain they release to one another are all the more revealing. And despite the fact that Liam is upfront about his personality, honest that he isn't the nicest of guys, his charm and troubles never fail to work in his favor (which really just means that yes, his accent is alluring, and yes, his looks are even more killer).
Come See About Me has, surprisingly, filled the long-time hole inside of me that has been craving for something more. I've been feeling unfulfilled as a reader off-late, but this novel depicts life, friendships, relationships, and growth in a light that isn't always neat or clean or easy, but rather one that is far less pretentious and rewarding. Moreover, I adore its ending; open, but with just enough temporary closure to satisfy readers who shy away from non-endings. Although this is only my first Martin novel, her richly depicted characterizations and beautiful prose will keep me coming back for more. For anyone who doesn't love a book placed in a tidy box and tied up with a fancy ribbon, this one is for you.