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How It Ends by Laura Wiess

Hanna knows what she wants, and what she wants is Seth. She's wanted him since she noticed him on the first day of sophomore year. So what if he sometimes acts like a jerk? So what if he seems to prefer vacuous girls who wear ankle bracelets? Hanna pursues Seth--and she gets him. But having Seth isn't quite as wonderful as she imagined it would be. Seth can be loving, warm and affectionate--but he can also be as jerky and mean to her as he was before--only now it hurts more, because he also tells her that he loves her.

Confused, Hanna seeks refuge with her elderly neighbor Helen, who has been her surrogate grandmother since she was very small. But Helen, who is slowly dying from a terminal disease, can't provide the same advice and comfort Hanna is used to. Instead, all she can offer is an audiobook, a memoir of a life. Hanna gets drawn into the story, but before long she begins to question what is fiction and what is history--and how it all connects to the present day and the people she loves.

Wiess's writing is strong, strong, strong. She's got the complex teenage girl down pat. Hanna is a fascinating, multifaceted character, with lots of different angles. I love the portrayal of a party girl who is also a good girl. Hanna goes out and drinks, but she also loves her parents and spends time with her elderly neighbors. These two things are not mutually exclusive. Some writers forget this, but not Laura Wiess.

What doesn't work as well is the pacing. The first half of this book alternates from Hanna's POV to Helen's, but mostly Hanna's, mostly the pursuit of Seth which is so frustrating because Hanna seems to be the only person who does see that Seth is a jerk and won't stop being a jerk ever.

And then you have the second half of the book, which alternates between Helen's audiobook, and Hanna listening to it (and thinking about Seth)--but mostly the audiobook story. It's a fascinating, horrific, compelling story, and you just want to hear it through to the end--and it doesn't disappoint. But it feels only loosely connected to the first half of the book. Hanna's own tribulations just don't feel like enough to connect them.

As Hanna complains to her mother, before she realizes the full import of the audiobook, it was hard for me to know what kind of story this was. A love story? An abusive boyfriend story? A family story? A horror story? It felt like all of them, but not in the beautiful inclusive way--more in the patchwork way.

I think the ending was supposed to be shocking, but to me it just felt--expected, almost, and the only possible proper ending to one of the story threads.

There's one thing I can say about Laura Wiess, and that is that she always makes me think. I like that in a book. I just wish this one was a little surer of what kind of book it wanted to be.

Date: 2009-08-12 02:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] esc-key.livejournal.com
I felt like she should've started with Hanna already with Seth instead of Helen getting too sick and being replaced by the audiobook.

I liked the one or two glimpses of Hanna intuitively knowing the book was about Helen instead of it being "OMG SHOCK!" at the end. It was just like, "Yeah, I knew that."

There were like one or two lines of editorializing about the en, re: the reaction of the community that put me off. The ending did feel expected so arguing the point was unnecessary... does that make sense?

Date: 2009-08-12 03:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] penmage.livejournal.com
All of this is exactly correct. From the cover copy, I expected an abusive boyfriend book, but this was much more a journey of self-discovery for Hanna than that.

I agree that I liked Hanna figuring out the it was about Helen--it was obvious to the reader because we were inside Helen's head, but I would have been really irritated with Hanna had she really been too slow to put any of the pieces together.

I agree on the ending, too. The community reaction felt a little forced and unecessary.

Also, I know the robbery stuff was supposed to be integral to the plot and Hanna's character development and stuff, but it kind of felt shoehorned in there. Did you get that sense, too?
Edited Date: 2009-08-12 03:07 pm (UTC)

Date: 2009-08-12 03:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] esc-key.livejournal.com
Also, I know the robbery stuff was supposed to be integral to the plot and Hanna's character development and stuff, but it kind of felt shoehorned in there. Did you get that sense, too?
YES! I was like, "What did that have to do with anything?" I thought it would come up later... but it didn't.

ALSO. We haven't discussed the most SHOCKING aspect of this book and that is the fact that both Helen and Hanna's mothers were normal. What's up with that? You're slipping, Laura Wiess.

Date: 2009-08-12 02:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] janni.livejournal.com
It's clearly the year of leaf covers with forboding titles. :-)

(But of course, the covers are actually nothing at all alike, and use their spare design elements to signal entirely different things, which is kind of fascinating.)

Date: 2009-08-12 03:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] penmage.livejournal.com
Clearly! Have you seen the rest of Laura Wiess's covers? I love them, I think they're so simple and gorgeous and perfect. Such a Pretty Girl has a dried rosebud, and Leftover (which is my favorite of her books) has what I think is a pair of dried dandelions.

Date: 2009-08-12 03:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] janni.livejournal.com
Just went and looked. Those are gorgeous covers. And Leftover jumped out most at me, too.

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