Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Review: The Survival Kit by Donna Freitas
After her irrepressible mother dies of cancer, Rose finds a “survival kit” that her mother made for her, a paper bag containing several objects that are supposed to help Rose overcome her grief. As Rose slowly comes to terms with the tragedy, her interactions with the objects in the Survival Kit invariably affect her relationships with important people in her lives, from her father, to her ex-boyfriend, to her friends, to the boy who might be her new love.
Donna Freitas is arguably YA’s best kept secret: her books are released with little fanfare, yet they are all beautifully, subtly written contemporary stories that linger in readers’ emotions for a long time to come. THE SURVIVAL KIT takes on a premise that has become unfortunately conventional in terms of contemporary YA plots, and manages to make it into a heartwarming, memorable, and utterly unique story.
Strangely enough, THE SURVIVAL KIT begins with a slew of clichés: the dead mother, the alcoholic father, the ex-cheerleader protagonist with her quarterback boyfriend and token POC best friend. It wasn’t long, however, before THE SURVIVAL KIT began to set itself apart from other books containing these clichéd elements. There may be cheerleaders and football players in this book, but the characters are not gag-inducing stereotypes: they are truly nice, flawed, well-intentioned…refreshingly normal people.
Rose is grieving, yes, but she’s working to get back to a place where she was once a creative and golden-hearted girl, and is thus not only defined by her grief for her mother. Other characters, too, retain that level of subtlety. Props go to Rose’s quarterback boyfriend and her former cheerleading teammates for not sounding like cardboard characters. Will is appreciably swoony, but THE SURVIVAL KIT’s strength lies in gradual and immersive character development, which puts this book a cut above other YA books about grief.
A successful retelling of an easily clichéd premise and characters that feel truly real combine to make me say: Bravo, Donna Freitas. THE SURVIVAL KIT may not have the flashy synopsis that bestselling lists love, but I hope that word of mouth will help this well-deserving book find a home in the hands of numbers of appreciative readers.
Cover discussion: It grew on me! At first I thought it was kind of weird, to have a model but to not have it be a photograph. But now I think that its uniqueness really matches Rose, and hopefully makes it stand out from other books.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Oct. 11, 2011 / Hardcover / 368pp. / $16.99
ARC received for review from publisher.