Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Review: How It Ends, By Laura Wiess

The blurb:

All Hanna's wanted since sophomore year is Seth. She's gone out with other guys, even gained a rep for being a flirt, all the while hoping cool, guitar-playing Seth will choose her. Then she gets him – but their relationship is hurtful, stormy and critical, not at all what Hanna thinks a perfect love should be.

Bewildered by Seth's treatment of her and in need of understanding, Hanna decides to fulfill her school's community service requirement by spending time with Helen, her terminally ill neighbor, who she's turned to for comfort and wisdom throughout her life. But illness has changed Helen into someone Hanna hardly knows, and her home is not the refuge it once was.

Feeling more alone than ever, Hanna gets drawn into an audio book the older woman is listening to, a fierce, unsettling love story of passion, sacrifice and devotion. Hanna's fascinated by the idea that such all-encompassing love can truly exist, and without even realizing it, the story begins to change her.

Until the day when the story becomes all too real...and Hanna's world is spun off its axis by its shattering irrevocable conclusion.

My Thoughts:
I received this book back in December, and though I was busy, I started it one day after lunch. I finished it the next day after breakfast (or possibly before breakfast?). I literally couldn't put it down.

I loved this book. This is the first of Wiess's books that I've read and it probably won't be my last. I loved her characters. Or, I should say, I loved how she wrote the characters, but I hated Seth and doctor Boehm, which I think is exactly what Wiess was going for with those characters. Having had friends in similar relationships as Hanna and Seth, I can really appreciate the mixed feelings Hanna has and her inability to just leave him even though he's an absolute jerk. I've seen friends go through the same thing and I know that this is as realistic as it gets, especially at that age.

Overall, I guess that sums up my thoughts on this book- realistic. The situations, the feelings, the characters. It all feels down to earth. Any one of my friends could be Hanna, telling me this story of their life.

But it's not just about Hanna. Wiess is a master at the story within a story within a story type of writing. Some authors attempt this and it falls flat- you get confused and frustrated. But not so with Wiess! Hanna starts volunteering at her elderly neighbors' house for school credit (Helen and Lon have always been close to Hanna and her family, sharing holidays and whatnot and Hanna gets special permission to help take care of Helen as her Parkinson's gets worse and worse as volunteering in private homes is not usually allowed). While there, Hanna puts in audiobooks for Helen to listen to, a couple of chapters at a time. Helen, before her condition got really bad, started typing out her and Lon's story- she had previously lied to Hanna about it because she was ashamed of some of the things she had been through and didn't think it was what Hanna would want to hear. So, determined to set things straight, she types up the story and they send it to get it made into an audiobook so that they could get Hanna to listen to it while taking care of Helen. The tie in between Hanna's life and Helen's story is great. Hanna thinks it is fiction, but she still takes a lot from the story- and when she finds out how true it was, she finally has the strength to see that Seth doesn't love her and that there is a much stronger and purer love out there. I definitely cried. Quite a bit in fact. There are some real tear-jerker moments in this book, so I recommend if you get teary with books, have some tissues handy. Also, The ending is a shock, but it was a well written twist. I was satisfied with the ending, satisfied with Hanna's growth and the book left me with a smile.

There were a couple of things that bothered me. One was the ages. You are never expressly told how old Helen and Lon are or when they were born. We are given a few clues though:

Louise is Helen's middle name and the name she uses in the story Hanna is listening to. Likewise, "Peter" is Lon. Louise's mother had a whirlwind romance of 3 days ending with a marriage to a GI behind the club where she worked and they met. There was a one day honeymoon before he was shipped out, and he was killed in the war before he knew he was going to be a father (pg. 167). This gives me the idea that Louise, aka, Helen, was born around/during a war- so either between 1914 - 1918 or 1939-1945. Other historical clues lead one to believe it was WWII, not WWI.

Later, we meet Peter- when Peter and Louise meet at the Boehm's, Louise is 15, and we're told "He was younger than I'd thought, in his early twenties perhaps" (pg 224) So from this, we know that there is most likely a 5-10 year difference between Helen and Lon (That would cover Lon being 20-25 at that time).

A bit later in the story, we find out that Lon "had left Holland and come over to America alone at fifteen, two years after surviving the Hunger Winter of 1945" (pg. 275). If I'm reading that correctly, that means that Lon was 15 in 1947. That means Lon was born in 1932. So Louise must have been born between 1937-1942 (5-10 years after Lon), which does fit with th previous story, so long as she was born in '41 or later (Thats when the US was in WWI).

Until typing this out I was actually unsure if the dates worked, but I'm glad to see that they do. I was very frustrated while reading, trying to figure out when things were happening. So if anyone else is frustrated as me when it comes to that kind of thing, there's the breakdown.

The other thing that bugged me was the end of the story Helen wrote. Towards the end of the audiobook it says, "I worried about all the things I'd wanted to tell him in our golden years that now I couldn't form the words for or even remember....I would tremble with outrage when this happened, and my involuntary movements would grow agitated and spastic....and then Peter, eyes gleaming would release my hand and let it flail, inevitably knocking over my drink cup or sweeping my plate from the tray..." (Pg 318-319). Farther down on 319, Louise narrates that she can no longer move or speak, etc.
My question is- then how on earth is still still able to type? At this point in the story, Helen/Louise is getting towards the tail end of her Parkinson's- she narrates her thoughts, how desperate she feels, not being able to say Thank you or tell Lon/Peter that she loved him, how she cannot move on her own, how her limbs move involuntarily, spastically. This is the only real glitch in the whole book that I found, but I cannot come up with a single excuse for her being able to still type out the book. Lon could have typed it if she was able to speak, but she cannot. And the audiobook is entirely from her viewpoint, so certainly no one else finished it. Compared to how brilliant the rest of the book was, this one little thing was disappointing.

But don't get me wrong, the book is still worth reading. I still loved it. I still laughed and cried. In fact, the last time I cried so much reading a book, it was a Nicholas Sparks book. How It Ends was a great read, just don't over analyze the being able to type when she can't move thing. Other than that, I highly recommend.

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