February 10, 2013

Arlaina Tibensky: "And Then Things Fall Apart"

Title: And Then Things Fall Apart [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Arlaina Tibensky [Blog | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary
Year: 2011
Age: 14+
Stars: 4.5
Pros: Gorgeous prose. Straightforward, engaging, lively-yet-deep lead that gets under your skin in the good way. Bell Jar references (if you love the book). Lots of bittersweet fun.
Cons (= WARNING!): Heavy petting and sexual desire are discussed at length by a 15 years old girl.
Will appeal to: Those who like journal entries, multifaceted musings and Sylvia Plath.

Blurb: Keek and her boyfriend just had their Worst Fight Ever; her best friend heinously betrayed her; her parents are divorcing; and her mom’s across the country caring for her newborn cousin, who may or may not make it home from the hospital. To top it all off, Keek’s got the plague. (Well, the chicken pox.) Now she’s holed up at her grandmother’s technologically barren house. With only an old typewriter and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar for solace and guidance, Keek’s alone with her swirling thoughts. But one thing’s clear through her feverish haze - she’s got to figure out why things went wrong so she can make them right. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: Can I go all fangirl over this book? Because seriously, folks, that's what I feel like doing. (Well, since this is actually my own blog, I guess I'm allowed to. But I'm trying not to take advantage of this small technicality...too much). I would like to buy a huge stack of copies of this novel (um, I should get rich before...so not likely) and hand them out to the apparently massive number of people who haven't read it - at least according to Goodreads statistics. One could blame it on the marketing - but I suspect that a book with virtually no action and bearing all those Bell Jar references discouraged many potential readers. Well, I'll do my best to win some of them back with this review.
Every chapter of this book is sort of a journal entry by the 15 years old narrator Keek (Karina). I say "sort of" because she actually stresses the fact that she wouldn't call her pages a diary or a journal (chapter "July 25"). Also, she addresses a supposed "dear reader" here and there, turning her "journal" into an example of metafiction. The same thing happens - though in a different context - because of the constant references Keek makes to The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Having read and loved said book, Tibensky's novel caught my attention and immediately ended up in my to-read list, while the reference probably worked reversely for people who a) haven't read The Bell Jar or b) read The Bell Jar but didn't like it. Now, if Plath's novel proved not to be your cup of tea, it is very unlikely that Keek's story may appeal to you, because The Bell Jar has such an impact on her that you will probably feel irritated at the girl, and consequently unable to enjoy her narrative. But if you haven't read The Bell Jar, don't let that keep you away from Tibensky's novel. You would miss Keek's introspective but lively prose, rich imagery, authentically-teen-yet-often-mature remarks and speculations. I am well past Keek's age, and haven't endured the same trials she goes through when I was; nonetheless, I was able to tune into her emotions and feel her authenticity. It may help if you (like Keek...and me) have always found solace in books, and have nurtured a passion for words since a very young age. Because if you have, Keek will become your Esther Greenwood - or a teen version of her - and will speak on your behalf. [...]

For a whole month, Keek is virtually a prisoner at her grandmother's house until her chicken pox subsides. Her supposedly broken phone is buried in her bag, and she doesn't even try and see if it really doesn't work at first (um, not very likely maybe, but I'll let this one pass). Her gran only has a landline and no internet - of course. So all Keek has got is an old (but electric - phew!) typewriter, The Bell Jar as solace/guidance, and her own thoughts. I love it how she makes the best of it, though she often sounds too alert for the body temps she records every single day (mainly between 38 and 39°). This break from technology allows Keek to ponder about a lot of people and things: her dysfunctional parents and their failed marriage, her friendship with an older girl who eventually put the last straw on said marriage, her newborn and very ill cousin, even her gran - but most of all, her boyfriend Matt and her own virginity. All those facts and persons are ultimately mirrored in The Bell Jar pages, and it's a bit too convenient...but it works. Also, at one point Keek confesses that she doesn't really understand all of The Bell Jar or Sylvia Plath - but this doesn't prevent her from writing creative, unusual prose, or even Plathianesque poetry (for the most part interesting). Again, a bit too convenient - but I'll condone that. Anyway, Keek manages to maintain an authentic teenager voice, while simultaneously infusing a deep and literary quality into her writing.
Some people have commented that this book mainly deals with usual teen angst. And it probably does - but Keek makes all the difference here. And it's not just about her fun, deep and original prose. There's also a gradual change of perspective on her part as her "journal" progresses. She's finally able to see her parents, Matt, Amanda, her friends, and even herself, for what they really are - which often differs a lot from what she used to think when she started to write. She's also able to understand that the future is bound to bring more changes, and to actually accept it.
The only reason why I didn't give this book a full 5-stars-treatment is the sex issue. I get it that many 15 years old girls are probably not only thinking about sex, but doing it. Just to be crystal clear - I don't think I'd be happy with a daughter (or son) having a precocious sexual life...because yes, I do think fifteen it's precocious. But that's not my problem with this book. My problem is, Keek goes as near as it gets to doing it with Matt once, and she isn't even able to think about pregnancy on that particular occasion (nor is Matt)...it looks like only a friend interrupting the intercourse prevents them from going all the way. This is when Keek starts to ponder about sex and virginity and pregnancy. I really think it should have happened before she almost succumbed to a rash of desire...
Well, if you can get past that - like I evidently did - this book is a must-read. A hidden gem in the stack of easy-on-the-eyes contemporary novels. So my advice is: go out and buy it (or borrow it at least. I'm sure you'll end up with buying it anyway...). Plus, reading this may eventually lead you to read The Bell Jar too, if you haven't already...and it sure wouldn't hurt ;).

For more Contemporary books click here.


  1. I think following your blog could be bad news for my pocket! I want all the books you rave about. I agree with you regarding the sex issue too, why not just make the character a little older and then it sits better. Another great review and yes another one now on my wish list.

    BookishTrish @ Between the Lines

    1. I'm so glad I managed to get you interested in a few books...it was my aim when setting up this blog! But I don't want your brokenness on my conscience :).

    2. Too late! You have tempted me and there is no turning back :)

    3. LOL. At least it will be for a good cause!


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