Monday, January 24, 2011

Entangled by Cat Clarke

Grace wakes up and begins writing. It's all she's allowed to do in this white room, with white sheets, white walls, a white floor.

She starts on Day 3 of being in this place.

Entangled is a story that unravels bit by bit through Grace's diary. Each page brings us one step closer to understanding where she is and why she's here. Something horrible has happened in her life, though it's never entirely clear what THE event was that caused things to spiral. As readers, we're left to piece together our conclusions.

Clarke does something really smart in the way she invites us into Grace's world. The people in her life are introduced purposefully: we first meet Ethan. He plays a large part in Grace being where she is and he's a large point of reference for her while she writes through her thoughts. He's -- if you will -- her "after." After we get to know and build a trust with Ethan, we're taken back a step further to meet best friend Sal. We know early on that something awful happened to Sal. Grace is there to support her, but Sal pushes her away until she ultimately blames her for the events. Their relationship is rocky. Sal's sort of that middle place: she's not Grace's "after" nor her "before." Then we meet Nat. He's the guy Grace has a real relationship with. She spends a lot of time thinking about him in her writing and talking specifically about those feelings she's developed and the uncertainty of his reciprocating them. She wants to tell him she loves him, but how? Fortunately, he makes the first move.

Or is it so fortunate?

I'll say this much: he's also not her "before." He's right there with Sal in that middle area. Then there is her "before." Because I don't want to give it away, I won't hint as to what it is. When you read this book, Grace drops clues leading you to what it might be. But then it comes together in a much more shocking manner and in a way that explains Grace and her actions so well. And because we're working through these things with Grace in her diary, we see it surprises her, too. It's a thread she herself doesn't fully grasp until the end, though the end is really her beginning.

I've explained far more about plot than I intended but that's because this is a tough book to describe succinctly. There is so much going on in Grace's mind that it would be impossible to boil it down to one thing that causes her to end up in this place. It's also hard not to spoil the revelations and twists that happen. But if I were to say what my impression of the book is it's this: Entangled is a story of grief. It's not just about grief, though. It's also about love and romance and what it feels like to hit rock bottom and be unsure how to claw back up and out.

Clarke's voice for Grace is one of the most realistic 17-year-olds I've read. Grace, despite being in her mental state, is witty and thoughtful, as well as sad, broken, and ultimately, hopeful. The way she interacts with Nat, Ethan, and Sal are realistic, and the way their friendships and romances wax and wane are spot on. And the feelings she has she doesn't hold back on: there is one scene where she feels so alone and broken, and she is uninhibited talking about how another girl's ability to recognize she exists meant the world to her. It's in those moments that we really connect with Grace and want her to succeed.

Grace isn't necessarily a good girl, nor is she really a bad girl. She's flawed. Some readers will be repulsed by her and find how she acts and treats those around her inappropriate. Others will find her extremely likable. I found myself rooting for her completely -- she's got it rough, and it seems like so many people aren't willing to reach out to her in this time. Except Ethan, that is. But here's the thing: I'm not sure Ethan's really there pulling for her either. I think it's Grace pulling for herself the entire time. She is both her best friend and worst enemy, and it all goes back to her being perfectly 17.

This book is extremely well constructed. At times, you feel like you know what's going to happen, but then Clarke pushes a new twist in the narrative -- into Grace's diary -- and suddenly things aren't as clear as they seemed. In the end, though, they fuse in a way that makes perfect sense. We have immediate access to Grace's mind; we're working things out right along with her, and it's usually pretty sloppy and all over the place. But, Grace is much smarter than she gives herself credit for, and we're lucky to see that ourselves.

Entangled reminded me of what Courtney Summers does in Fall for Anything -- we have a girl struggling to come to terms with unfettered grief. And what I love is how different this book is from Summers's. The way Grace works through it is unique, and that's precisely why I think these two titles are such great readalikes to one another. They're almost in an interesting conversation with one another, reassuring the reader that there is no one way to work through anything and there's no one answer to right and wrong. There's nothing that can explain some of the most mysterious and horrible aspects of life.

What probably excites me most about this book is that someone can read it and completely disagree with every word of my interpretation of intention. There is so much going on and so many possibilities at the core of this novel, that another reader can walk away thinking this book is primarily about the destructive power of love and friendship. And you know, they're right, too. This is also a book about self mutilation and a book about teen pregnancy (and there is an abortion, which is a topic recently discussed here).

Without doubt, this is one of the strongest books I've read in a long time, though it certainly won't be for everyone. It's intense and dark, and it is completely unflinching. Clarke does not shy away from graphic details -- they're real but never once over-the-top or included simply to get a rise from the reader. It goes back to Grace being 17 and to her dealing with grief the only way she knows how.

I hope this book makes its way overseas soon, as this is a UK release by a debut author. You can purchase it right here. I am so glad I bought it because it's one I know I'll revisit.

3 comments:

  1. Wow, what a review! Entangled sounds like such a complex story, one that the reader really needs to take her time with. The "interesting conversation" comparison with Fall For Anything intrigued me. Thanks for such a thoughtful review!

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  2. You had me at Courtney Summers' Fall For Anything!

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  3. This sounds awesome. Anything that's compared to Courtney Summers I must check out. Plus, that cover is awesome. Nice review!

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