Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher
Since you're reading this review, I assume you haven't read it yet. If not, go and read it. This book is everything sad and wonderful (and everything in between) in the world. Be warned - you will need a box of tissues while you read it (no spoilers!). This book is about Amelia who, with her best friend and basically adopted sister Jenna, goes to a book fest to see the author who wrote the Orman series - not only are these Amelia's favorite books, they hold a lot of meaning for her. After Jenna gets to meet the recluse author N. E. Endsley but Amelia does not, they have a fight and not long afterwards, Jenna tragically dies. The book follows Amelia learning to live in a post-Jenna world and finding herself. This book has so much feeling and heart - although it sometimes feels overwhelming reading it, the book gives the reader so much hope and love that you can't stop reading and have to keep going. Although this is a YA book, I would encourage everyone to read it (with a box of tissues).
About the book:
Eighteen-year-old Amelia Griffin is obsessed with the famous Orman Chronicles, written by the young and reclusive prodigy N. E. Endsley. They’re the books that brought her and her best friend Jenna together after Amelia’s father left and her family imploded. So when Amelia and Jenna get the opportunity to attend a book festival with Endsley in attendance, Amelia is ecstatic. It’s the perfect way to start off their last summer before college.
In a heartbeat, everything goes horribly wrong. When Jenna gets a chance to meet the author and Amelia doesn’t, the two have a blowout fight like they’ve never experienced. And before Amelia has a chance to mend things, Jenna is killed in a freak car accident. Grief-stricken, and without her best friend to guide her, Amelia questions everything she had planned for the future.
When a mysterious, rare edition of the Orman Chronicles arrives, Amelia is convinced that it somehow came from Jenna. Tracking the book to an obscure but enchanting bookstore in Michigan, Amelia is shocked to find herself face-to-face with the enigmatic and handsome N. E. Endsley himself, the reason for Amelia’s and Jenna’s fight and perhaps the clue to what Jenna wanted to tell her all along.
I learn that books are liars when, less than a week after her departure, Jenna’s mother calls to tell me that Jenna is dead.
“Car accident,” she says. “The other driver sped through a red light.”
“How?” I ask. Stupidly, brokenly. “I don’t know,” she says.
“But she was in Ireland.”
Was. I’ve only known for a minute and Jenna is already a was instead of an is.
Jenna’s mother barely stops to breathe; she uses her attorney voice, her no-nonsense voice, the kind she uses for client calls or when Mr. Williams doesn’t cut the Thanksgiving turkey into thin enough slices.
“Will you speak, Amelia? At her funeral, I mean?”
I say yes, but when the day comes and I’m standing in front of a congregation that moments before had been singing a hymn of celebration for Jenna and her “reunion with her creator,” I lose it. I let myself bleed onto every surface—the podium, the hideous floral arrangements, her casket—as the stories and memories imprison my head and my voice.
If this were a photo I was trying to frame in my lens, I would stretch the shadows creeping from beneath her stupid casket as far as I could. I would stretch them until they smothered the somber faces in the pews and all that would be left unshadowed in the photo would be myself behind the podium and what’s left of Jenna. I would call it Survivor and a Half.
But my imagination can only keep me occupied for so long.
Countless pairs of eyes look at me with pity and heartbreak, and I feel the years of waiting in line for book signings, the late-night study sessions when one of us had procrastinated too long on research papers, the countless hours spent reading together. All that, and the stupid, stupid pictures tacked to her bedroom wall, work their way down from the lump in my throat to the choke hold squeezing my heart.
Eventually the pastor comes up to pat my back and lead me away from the microphone, my hiccupping sobs loud enough without the assistance of amplification.
It’s wrong, I keep thinking. Life isn’t following its script and it’s not fair . . . I’m not prepared.
While some kids waited for their letter to be delivered by owl or for their closet to one day reveal a magical land with talking animals and stone tables, I’d waited for the other shoe to drop. Because if there’s one thing I learned from books, it’s that life is fair and unfair, just and unjust. When my father left us, I thought that was the end of it, but then Jenna found me and life was dreadfully out of balance again, too right and happy.
I waited for more hard parts, the ones books say begin when you’re young but always, always end in the early teenage years to allow for happily-ever-after. The Final Big Bad Thing would happen before high school graduation. Everything bad happens to you in high school or after you’ve turned forty and have a spouse and six kids and a few decades of hard-earned disappointment under your belt.
Books lie. Life isn’t finished with you when you are eighteen or when you think you’ve had enough. It’s never enough. You’re never in the clear.
Jenna thought her books should be new and pure, untouched by anyone but herself. I prefer my books to have already been occupied, to have stories independent of the one carried on the page. I like to imagine my used books as little soldiers that have gone off to serve their duty elsewhere before coming into my hands. Books are something to be stepped inside of, to be occupied and lived in. Maybe that’s why I tend to loan out my books while Jenna rarely parted with hers.
But Jenna is gone now. She’s gone, and her parents have bequeathed me her library.
“She’d want you to have them,” Mr. Williams says through tears, when he and Mrs. Williams come to check on me a few days after we watch Jenna’s body get lowered into the ground. This is only the second or third time they have been inside my mother’s house, and they look out of place seated on the
edge of my twin bed.
Mr. Williams is vying for me to spend the remainder of the summer with them, but something inside me balks.
“You wouldn’t . . . you wouldn’t have to sleep in Jenna’s room,” Mr. Williams says. “But we could get you all the help you need. Counselors and therapists and college coaches, whatever you need . . . whatever you want.”
“I know,” I say, rubbing my temples to try to stop the low throbbing. “I know.”
“Mark,” Jenna’s mother says. Her tone is low, mildly chastising. “She doesn’t want to be in our house.”
She’s right. I can’t stand the thought of being smothered by the long hallways of their immaculate house, which hold almost as many pictures of me on the walls as of Jenna.
Pictures of us in mud masks and pajamas. Shots of us grinning in front of the ocean, with the tip of Mr. Williams’s pinky in the corner of the frame. The one of Jenna looking back over her shoulder and smiling her devastating smile, the one she rarely let people see, the one that made her face glow and her eyes crinkle.
That’s the photo Mrs. Williams had blown up and framed for the funeral service. During the reception at their house, Kailey Lancaster pointed to where the wrapped canvas picture sat on an easel and whispered to her boyfriend, “It doesn’t even look like her.”
It took everything in me not to “accidentally” knock her
plate of cheese cubes and fruit out of her hand.
I shove the memory from my brain and half try to give Jenna’s books back, to insist they return the six or so massive boxes to Jenna’s shelves, but her parents refuse to hear of it.
When they finally leave, I spend what feels like hours going through Jenna’s library and systematically destroying page 49 of each of her books, tearing the pages in half before sloppily taping them back together. The first roll of tape I grab from the kitchen junk drawer is double-sided. I numbly use it for about twelve books. I don’t attempt to fix the others.
It was Jenna’s rule of reading excerpts, the page 49 thing. “Far enough to get a feel for what the author’s writing is really like without going too far and risking a huge spoiler,” she always said. I don’t know why I rip the pages. Maybe I’m hoping she will come back and chastise me for ruining her books. Maybe I’m trying to erase her, to make the books my own so I can forget perfect Jenna and her perfect books ever existed.
Or maybe I’m just stupid with grief and don’t know what I’m doing.
Later that night, summer rain patters against the window and drowns out even my most melancholy thoughts, and I try to read the book I started before graduation. Over and over, I try. I switch to Orman, and I try again. But my eyes refuse to change the letters into sentences, the sentences into pages. I reread the same sentence no less than five times before I give up. I close the book and lie on my back with my eyes closed.
My life has split in two. Before there was a before and a sub-sequent after, I imagined myself a talented reader. Reading, for me, has always been more like playing a video game than watching a movie, an active experience that used to leave me physically and emotionally wrought. I could step into a page and roam the described landscape independently of the characters that inhabited it. I’ve plucked the ring from Frodo and felt its inscribed Elvish on my finger- tips. I’ve sneaked gulps of milk from the Boxcar Children’s hidden stash beneath the waterfall, borrowed Harry’s broom while he studied with Hermione, and played with the Bennet cats while Elizabeth and her sisters were dancing at Nether- field. I’ve stepped in the forest-green prints of Orman, my footprints dwarfing Emmeline’s and barely matching up to Ainsley’s. I’ve rested my palm against the cool stone of the lighthouse fortress that first greeted them upon their arrival, and smelled the salt from the sea below.
I’ve lived in books. I’ve eaten and breathed books for so long that I took it for granted. I assumed that, if they saved me once, they would always be there to pick me up, even if Jenna wasn’t. But Jenna is gone, and the words stay on the page in their neat, orderly rows. The pages don’t rise up to meet me like old friends, and the characters are marionettes pulled by visible strings. If I were going to take a self-portrait, I wouldn’t focus on my crumpled body curled on the bed with its mismatched sheets and pillowcases. I would take all of Jenna’s books and wrap them so tightly with masking tape that the covers would wrinkle beneath the binding. I would take my books and rip out the last two pages of each, because this is what it feels like without Jenna here to see what comes after this—college, careers, boyfriends, whatever. None of it will matter, because in all of my imaginings, it was always the two of us, sisters by choice rather than blood.
I’d arrange the ripped pages falling on the taped books and I would call it Time Heals No Wounds. Or maybe I would focus on the crumpled edges of the removed pages and call it Amelia Abridged.
When I eventually fall asleep, tears still pooling in my ears, a shadow monster with teeth chases me through endless swampy marshes. In my hand is an instruction manual on how to defeat it, but since I can no longer read, I run and run and run.
Publisher: Wednesday Books