Jillian Cantor’s The Life of Glass is a quiet and poetic novel. If you like a story that is all about character and offers thoughtful exploration of complex themes, then this is a book you will want to read. I imagine that fans of Beth Kephart’s writing will find themselves pleased by Jillian Cantor’s style. Both writers pay attention to detail, and you get the feeling that every chapter has been crafted just so.
Here is the teaser from the jacket:
Before he died, Melissa’s father told her about stars. He told her that the brightest stars weren’t always the most beautiful—that if people took the time to look at the smaller stars, if they looked with a telescope at the true essence of the star, they would find real beauty. But even though Melissa knows that beauty isn’t only skin deep, the people around her don’t seem to feel that way. There’s her gorgeous sister Ashley who will barely acknowledge Melissa at school, there’s her best friend Ryan, who may be falling in love with the sophisticated Courtney, and there’s Melissa’s mother who’s dating someone new, someone who Melissa knows will never be able to replace her father.
To make sure she doesn’t lose her father completely, Melissa spends her time trying to piece together the last of his secrets and completing a journal her father began—one about love and relationships and the remarkable ways people find one another. But when tragedy strikes, Melissa has to start living and loving in the present, as she realizes that being beautiful on the outside doesn’t mean you can’t be beautiful on the inside.
From the beginning of Cantor’s book, you know you are in for fine writing. The first chapter itself is as well-crafted as a good short story. On its own it would be whole and thematically rich. It introduces threads of what will be explored more fully later, and the completeness of it made me want to go back and read it through again from the first page. I appreciated that even though the writing style of this book is quite poetic in places, the narrative feels entirely realistic, never forced, and it stays rooted in Melissa’s experiences and her way of seeing the world. Through her novel, Cantor raises rich questions around life’s permanence and impermanence, and she invites readers to compare the fragility of human relationships to the natural world. The Life of Glass is also as much about beauty, and what it means to be a beautiful person, as it is about loss and letting go. You can read some of Jillian’s thoughts on beauty in general, and its place in her novel, here. I imagine these subjects would make The Life of Glass a superb choice for a teen book club. I found Mel and Ryan’s friendship to be one of the more complex, touching and natural boy/girl relationships I’ve read in a while. It is a huge strength in the book, and one of the most rewarding aspects of a wholly satisfying novel.
One of the most interesting aspects of this book for me was how it invited me to consider the potential for life to surprise, as well as the role of fate or serendipity in how things unfold. Speaking of fate, kind of cool that Jillian realized the cover image reminded her of someone. Read about that coincidence here.
I like a book that manages to pack a lot of complexity into a slim package. In my mind, that suggests a truly talented writer. The Life of Glass is the perfect read for someone who is after a story worth contemplating, and worth reading slowly.
The Life of Glass is published by Harper Teen.