Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Review: The Survival Kit by Donna Freitas

Tags: YA, contemporary, grief, hockey


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.

Similar Authors
Jandy Nelson
Tara Kelly

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.


  1. Your review has me intrigued. I will be "checking this book out". I also realized after reading about the author that I have her other book-The Gorgeous Game sitting on my TBR shelf. I better get reading!

  2. What a lovely review -- this was a very emotional, beautifully written book. I'm going to have to check out Freitas' other books. Any recommendations on which to start with?

  3. I second Anna here- which ones are a good starter for Freitas' books?

    Great review :)

  4. Anna and Rida: all of Donna's books are standalones, so really, you can start with any! I actually haven't read her debut novel The Possibilities of Sainthood, but I found This Gorgeous Game to be an absorbing read, although the content is a little disturbing. The Survival Kit may be a good one to start with. :)

  5. Really -such a well-written, thoughtful review. Thank you for the introduction!

  6. Well, HECK. I'm surprised I haven't wanted to pick this one up. I figured, like how you mentioned it, that this would turn out to be another cliched story with the reusable premise. But I guess not. I'm definitely going to have to check this out now.

    - Asher (from Paranormal Indulgence)

  7. I've added this to my list of books to read based on your review -- it sounds great!


  8. Yay, glad to hear Freitas' new books is good...did you read her first novel, THE POSSIBILITIES OF SAINTHOOD? It was good too, comical and different.

  9. This sounds sad but lovely to me. I have an interest in it especially because I've worked quite a bit with kids whose parents have cancer (and my husband lost his mother to cancer as a teenager as well). I like to find books that get inside of people's heads who are dealing with loss in that way.

  10. I agre with you - Freitas definitely doesn't get the credit or attention that she deserves.

    The Survival Kit impressed me a lot, I can't wait to pick up This Gorgeous Game and catch up with Freitas' other releases.

  11. This is already on my list of things to read, but your review has moved it up my TBR list a little! Thanks for the great review. :)

  12. Ah! I loved This Gorgeous Game. I'll definitely have to pick this one up!

  13. Lovely review, Steph. I've heard a few things about this one, and my sweet blogger friend Mel sent it to me, so I'm definitely looking forward to reading it. It's reviews like this that make me want to group hug all of you favorites of mine. =D

  14. You know, I read this one because you mentioned it on your blog! I just posted my review, and I found that I too was moved to keep going beyond the cliched start and found that I really appreciated the character development and emotion in it. Great review!

  15. It's inarguable, Donna Freitas is YA’s best kept secret! Love her books.


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