Margo Rabb’s Cures for Heartbreak is one of readergirlz’s featured titles this month, on the theme of “hope,” and I couldn’t be happier in this choice because this is a remarkable, finely-crafted piece of writing that manages to still have tremendous accessibility and appeal for the teen audience. This said, everyone needs to read it. Everyone who has lost someone. Everyone who has as yet been spared the experience of losing a close family member. I reread Rabb’s book this week, because I had loved it so much the first time around and I wanted to review it here.
In Cures for Heartbreak, we meet 15-year-old Mia Pearlman, whose mother dies of melanoma a mere twelve days after being diagnosed. At the beginning of the novel, Mia remembers thinking that there is no way she believed she could go on if her mother died. Her mother dies, and Mia goes on. That’s what this book is about. It’s about how Mia discovers what going on with her life means. She feels this pull between wanting things to stay as close as they can to how things were before her mother’s death and wanting something new to start. This is the real tension in the story. We get to know her father and sister and see how the family experiences this huge loss in a story that manages to be heartbreaking, funny and full of hope.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote in a post that when you read a lot of books, you reach a point when you can identify almost immediately writers with a true gift for language. There are writers who are born to write, as opposed to those who can write but perhaps don’t use words with a consistent and natural giftedness. Margo Rabb is one of those rare and gifted artists. Her prose never reads as forced or thin or jarring. The characters’ voices are spot on, like you’re overhearing a conversation in someone’s living room, bedroom or hospital room. You will find yourself imagining what might be the future lives of the characters in this novel because they seem like they could live in your neighbourhood, just down the street.
I believe that a number of the chapters in this book were published first as short stories, and I enjoyed the way that each chapter could be experienced and appreciated as a self-contained work. This said, the novel isn’t strictly episodic in structure, with giant jumps in time between chapters, but you can linger over each story as a lovely piece in and of itself, and each one feels like it has its own message for the reader about living with loss.
A huge part of what makes this book so satisfying is the fact that while the subject matter could become just horribly depressing, it never does. It’s sad, of course, but if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t read as authentic. Rabb has managed to offer readers a glimpse into the complexity of life after losing an immediate family member – how it’s devastating and confusing and sometimes bizarrely funny. I think this is such an important book for people to read if they haven’t experienced a profound loss, because it is the sort of real story that might help you to navigate your way when loss finds you.
There was quite a bit of buzz around this book when it first came out, because of the quality of the work and also related to the fact that it was sold as YA when Rabb hadn’t really planned it that way. If you’re interested in YA lit, who reads it, and who should read it, you might want to take a look at that discussion. Here is a link to an essay in the NY Times, by Margo Rabb: I’m YA and I’m OK, and a radio interview on the same subject. Super interesting. Super fine book. Read Cures for Heartbreak, and read Impulse by Ellen Hopkins, the featured title at readergirlz for April.