Monday, September 26, 2011

Without Tess by Marcella Pixley

Tess and Lizzie are sisters, sisters as close as can be, who share a secret world filled with selkies, flying horses, and a girl who can transform into a wolf  in the middle of the night. But when Lizzie is ready to grow up, Tess clings to their fantasies. As Tess sinks deeper and deeper into her delusions, she decides that she can’t live in the real world any longer and leaves Lizzie and her family forever. Now, years later, Lizzie is in high school and struggling to understand what happened to her sister. With the help of a school psychologist and Tess’s battered journal, Lizzie searches for a way to finally let Tess go.
- Publisher's description (I had a hard time summarizing this one for some reason)

This was sad.  Poor Lizzie.  I felt so awful for her, especially when she was little.  We spent a lot more time in the book with young Lizzie than 15 year-old Lizzie, and I think that's why I sympathized with her younger self more.  Lizzie idolized her older sister.  She wished she could be more like her - imaginative and free spirited.  Tess seemed to have a magic about her that Lizzie couldn't get.  As much as Lizzie worshiped Tess, Tess was often cruel to her.  Tess was trapped in her fantasy world and didn't see that she often ended up hurting other people, and that person was usually Lizzie.  Tess had Lizzie eat a dried, dead crab, which made her throw up, to prove to Tess that Lizzie loved her.  When Tess said she was a selkie but that Lizzie wasn't, she had Lizzie lie naked in the ocean in fall, almost freezing before she finally got up.  Tess stabbed Lizzie's hand with her earring to make a blood promise, and gave her blood poisoning, and then wouldn't let Lizzie go inside to get their mother when she started feeling sick.

It was really terrible to hear how Tess was, and wonder why didn't her parents notice things more.  What I thought was interesting was that how Tess was in school was never mentioned.  She was 11 years old, so she'd been going to school for a number of years.  No one noticed anything?  Tess did mention not being able to use her magic when other people were around, but it's hard to think that she could have completely held it together at school.  I don't know quite what was wrong with Tess, but she was clearly detached from reality and delusional.  As Lizzie goes through her journal, the words and images become more and more disturbing, until it's hard to think that they were coming from such a young child.

As Lizzie got older and made a new friend, Tess was hurt and desperate to keep Lizzie believing with her as she always did.  Tess really did believe all her transformation stories, and after Lizzie got blood poisoning, she wasn't as quick to do what Tess said anymore.  This is when Lizzie and Tess' parents finally decided something needed to be done.  Tess started going to therapy, but she didn't want to change. She didn't want to take medicine that would make her not believe in magic, and became more depressed.  So one night she took Lizzie out to the ocean and she drowned herself, with Lizzie there.

Lizzie, of course, feels horribly guilty for not saving her sister.  Lizzie's parents are a mess for not noticing sooner and helping their daughter.  No one talks about Tess, and so none of them have ever been able to move on.  Lizzie still thinks of Tess as her wonderful, imaginative, magical older sister, not a little girl who was very sick.

I wasn't in love with the ending.  I wish Lizzie hadn't needed a boy to swoop in and help her move on.  I wish she could have saved herself.  Although I do understand how finally getting to talk to someone about Tess, who also remembered Tess from that time, was what she needed more than anything.  While her family is far from fixed, it was nice at the end to see Lizzie getting ready to take the first steps forward to moving on. 

There was an unusual religious aspect going on that I'm not totally sure I understood.  Lizzie is Jewish, and her new friend, Isabella is Catholic.  Isabella's family is very religious and Lizzie's is not.  When Lizzie tries to pray for Tess to be OK, Isabella always tells her she needs to pray the right way, to Jesus, or else it won't work.  Lizzie has a feeling that this isn't right, that Jews aren't suppose to pray to Jesus, but she isn't really sure what to do.  Isabella wants Lizzie to play confession with her, and even goes as far as to take Lizzie to a church for communion.  When Lizzie actually gets to that point, she's horrified to realize that the blood and wafer represent Jesus' body and blood.  She doesn't want to do it but feels she can't back out now.  So she does it and then runs away.  That whole aspect felt weird.  What was it trying to show?  Did Lizzie make some kind of connection with Tess' fantasies to Isabella, who didn't like Tess' games, believing she was drinking Jesus' blood and body?  I'm just not sure.

Without Tess comes out October 11.

1 comment:

  1. This was the best story I've read in a while. The magical feel of the story, and the author's writing was simply amazing. I was held captive by this story from the start. I really don't want to say too much regarding the plot, for fear of giving away something vital. All I can really say is: read this book! You will not be disappointed. It's funny, mysterious, silly, enchanting, and sad. For anyone who has a family, or anyone they care about in their life, it will definitely take you on an emotional journey. I would recommend it to everyone.


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