Henry doesn’t need love. It isn’t that he’s bitter, or stuck in the past – love just isn’t something that has ever concerned him. He’s got everything he needs, until Grace Town walks into his life. The unkempt girl with the limp, clad in men’s clothing, shouldn’t catch his eye, but she does, and before he knows it, Henry is sucked into a whirlwind of grief, love, and learning that sometimes, beauty lies in the brokenness.
I adored the narrator. I can’t recall the last time I read a YA contemporary that had a teenage boy for a narrator, who felt so believable and real and absolutely endearing. Henry’s best friends are even better: Murray, the crazy Aussie outback survivor wannabe, and Lola, the Haitian/Chinese lesbian princess, are a constant source of humor, quick wit, brutal honesty, and friendly comforts. Unlike most “boy meets wounded girl” stories, I didn’t get the Manic Pixie Dream Girl vibe, which was a relief in and of itself. The book is also surprisingly meta and self-aware, filled with pop culture and internet references, as well as careful dissections of its own characters.
Beyond this point: SPOILERS!
Grace Town, the “wounded girl” in this scenario, is frustrating in the best way, because she feels like too many people I’ve met in my own life. She punishes herself with grief and pain, refusing to move on from the lost love of her life: Dom, the deceased boyfriend she seems to constantly size Henry up against (and replaces Henry with altogether when she’s drunk).
In the end, we learn that this book, unlike most YA contemporaries, does not have a “happy ending”; rather than letting Henry help her piece together the broken pieces of her soul, Grace continues life as a ghost, breaking Henry’s heart over and over until he comes to terms with the fact that he is not her soul mate, no great love of hers; he is simply a temporary side character in her life, and one can never fault another for unrequited love.
As someone who has moved past a few tumultuous relationships with unrequited sincerity, Sutherland’s writing was a journey all of its own; first, Henry’s story tugged at old scars, a quiet reminder of the aches of the past, before smoothing them over with the knowledge that just because something didn’t last, doesn’t mean it was a waste.