This will be a short review, because I don’t want to give anything away, and this is a slowly-unfolding mystery that is best experienced through reading it. I don’t want to spoil anything! So… I requested to join this blog tour because (1) I’d read Second Star by Alyssa a few years ago and really enjoyed it, and (2) I love mysteries and boarding school stories, and since this one had both I figured I couldn’t go wrong. I hadn’t expected the book to be so heavily focused on mental health issues, but I’m so glad I was able to have this reading experience. Although I say it is “heavily focused” on mental illness, I don’t mean to imply that it’s a heavy or super sad book, because amazingly enough it’s not. It’s a very well done portrait of mental illness in several forms, while also giving us a mystery you’re eager to see solved, a struggling-at-boarding-school experience, and even budding romance!
For several reasons, I really connected with the characters in this book, both Ellie and Eliza. I am claustrophobic myself, though I’ve never had such a severe form as Ellie does. I have, however, had a few panic attacks in small spaces, especially times when I’ve had to have MRIs (ugh I hate those). So I understood what Ellie was going through, even though my issue is not as severe as hers. I have also had experience with someone very similar to Eliza’s father (my brother-in-law), and I can say without a doubt that Alyssa’s portrayal of him and the effect on those around him was spot on. I was writing in the margins of my ARC very early on when he was on the page as to what I thought the issue was, and I turned out to be right. I know that’s very vague, but I really don’t want to give anything away.
Overall, I just want to get across that Alyssa’s portrayal of people struggling with, surviving with, and living fully with mental health issues is carefully drawn, sympathetic, and never maudlin. I’d recommend reading the author’s note at the end, in which Alyssa explains her thinking behind the book and some of the work she did to ensure accurate portrayals of various mental health issues. She also does a wonderful job showing how mental illness affects not only the person afflicted but also those around them, be they family or friends, co-workers or classmates. I highly recommend reading this book, even if you’re not one who normally enjoys “issue books.” It’s really not maudlin or overly heavy, nor is it preachy when dealing with a tough subject. The balancing act Alyssa strikes in this book with Eliza’s story is darn near perfect; I truly don’t think I’ve seen such a straightforward, unflinching, and sympathetic look at this issue in any book I’ve read before.
Again, I know this is rather vague, but I don’t want to give anything away and ruin the reading experience. I would just encourage you to check it out for yourself. It’s a relatively short, easy read, and I think you’ll find yourself quickly turning the pages just as I did. If you read R.I.P. Eliza Hart, I’d love to know what you think of it!
Rating: 4 stars!
Thank you to Scholastic Press for the ARC copy of this book for purposes of review. This is my honest and voluntary rating and review. Thanks also to Rockstar Book Tours for including me on the blog tour!
I had been wanting to read the first book, You Don’t Know My Name, since I heard about it prior to release last year. So when I saw the announcement for this tour, I figured I’d try to participate so I could have “an excuse” to begin the series. This YA spy thriller series hasn’t gotten quite as much exposure as others, for some reason, so I admit I was blown away at just how good the first book was. You don’t usually get to feel so many emotions when reading a thriller, but boy, mine ran the gamut: from laughter to nail-biting anticipation to flat-out sobbing. Yes, that’s right, Ms. Orlando holds absolutely nothing back! I mean, the way the first book ended… I was bawling, I really was. You Don’t Know My Name was an easy book to rate for me, definitely a 5-star read. I couldn’t put it down, but it was much more than “just” a thriller, if that makes sense.
So, why did I rate You Won’t Know I’m Gone four stars instead of five? Well, the only reason is that it is - as is typical with the second in a trilogy - very much a bridge book. I mean, a lot happened and I still ran the gamut of emotions, but probably 90% of the book takes place in one site. It’s not a huge deal, it’s just not quite as exciting as the frenetic pace and site-hopping of book one. However, there’s still a lot of action and excitement, so never fear! I have to say, I really appreciated that Reagan actually suffered consequences for the things she does. As with the ability to kill off main characters, the author doesn’t hold back on having Reagan actually have to pay, one way or another, for her impetuosity. This is not one of those books where the MC breaks pretty much every rule there is yet always gets away with it and gets ahead! That doesn’t mean that Reagan follows all the rules in the second book, though, no sir! But the author really uses her actions as teaching moments, as part of growing up and pushing the boundaries. I applaud Ms. Orlando for giving Reagan a strong personality and having her pay for the consequences of her actions.
The thing that I connected with so much in this book, though, is Reagan’s struggle with grief. I don’t have any idea if the author has suffered through the loss of someone dear to her or not, but if she hasn’t, then she is an absolute master at making me believe she has. I could relate to everything that Reagan felt in the aftermath of her mother’s death. At the risk of getting too heavy in this review, I wanted to make sure that I convey to Ms. Orlando that her handling of this topic is truly masterful. I happened to be reading this book just prior to the 10th anniversary of my sister’s death, and it’s possible that the struggle Reagan goes through connected more closely because of that; maybe it won’t be quite so impactful for others. But it was authentic and raw and felt absolutely real to me. I lost my sister to domestic violence, so it was a similar kind of death as we saw with Reagan’s mother - violent, traumatic, and completely unexpected. And everything she talks about feeling was something that I have felt, both in the immediate aftermath of my sister’s death and in the 10 years since. Even though this is not an “issues” book or a heavy contemporary, the characters go through some real life sh*t and respond in ways that are true to my own experiences. Ms. Orlando skillfully handles what Reagan faces with honesty and truth.
Overall, I really enjoyed this novel, and I can’t wait to read the third book! I feel so close to these characters now, and even though I don’t agree with everything Reagan does (not by a long shot!), I really respect the way Ms. Orlando has told the story. It’s thrilling and nail-biting, but also emotional and real. Brava!
Rating: 4 stars!
**Disclosure: I received an e-ARC of this book for purposes of taking part in this blog tour. This voluntary review reflects my honest reactions to the book.