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.