January 27, 2013

Review: 37 Things I Love by Kekla Magoon

Title: 37 Things I Love
Author: Kekla Magoon
Release Date: May 22nd, 2012
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Page Count: 224
Source: ARCycling
Rating: ★★★★☆
Ellis only has four days of her sophomore year left, and summer is so close that she can almost taste it. But even with vacation just within reach, Ellis isn’t exactly relaxed. Her father has been in a coma for years, the result of a construction accident, and her already-fragile relationship with her mother is strained over whether or not to remove him from life support. Her best friend fails even to notice that anything is wrong and Ellis feels like her world is falling apart. But when all seems bleak, Ellis finds comfort in the most unexpected places.

Life goes on, but in those four fleeting days friends are lost and found, promises are made, and Ellis realizes that nothing will ever quite be the same.

[Summary Source: Goodreads]

When I won this book in an ARCycling session a couple of weeks ago, I had no idea what it was about. I liked the way the title sounded and, under pressure, I put it on my list. When I won it, I looked it up on Goodreads and decided my gut is a genius. This book might be short, but it sure is something.

Let's break this down:

Ellis is this hapless teen who's just finishing up her sophomore year of high school. It's like, all of the bad that could possibly happen to her happened to her and it's so very terrible awful. Her father's been in a coma for two years, her best friend's kind of a witch with a capital B, her mother's disconnected and connected all at the same time and everything else is just... lacking.

I love Ellis because, even though her problems are so much bigger than any of my problems have ever been, I can still totally relate to her. The terrible friend situations she finds herself in are so familiar that all I want to do is swoop in and somehow make it better, just like I used to wish someone would do for me. But then, as the book goes on, it becomes clear that a magic solution isn't the right solution for Ellis (something I also learned and constantly re-learn over the years). There is no boy who swoops in and makes everything better, no spell that makes the bad best friend suddenly realize what she has. Even reconnecting with Cara doesn't somehow make everything better. If anything, it complicates just about everything (I only saw that particular plot twist coming like 30 seconds before it happened and I was still like: WHOA).

I guess sometimes I do get mad at Ellis (and Collin) for staying friends with Abby, but there are reasons for it - not reasons I love, but reasons I understand and would probably make allowances for myself. And I really love Cara. She's so... interesting. I know, that's not very descriptive, but she's kind of this quiet, soft character that floats through this story, kind of there, kind of not and she just seems so wonderful and complex even though her character isn't totally explored.

And that's my big issue with this book. I feel like there are SO VERY MANY things that could have been explored, but they just weren't. Kekla Magoon stuck to the driving force of this book (Ellis's father's death), which was lovely, but I would have loved to see a little more from the secondary characters. Abby felt totally flat, Cara had so much potential and, honestly, I felt like Evan really didn't have a point at all, except as a half-hearted red herring. I will say that it's possible I feel this way about the secondary characters because a lot of their relationships with Ellis are so very loaded and full of whole other book-long story plots, but these plots are pushed aside in order to tell the story of Ellis and her father.

Which is okay, I think, because the many sub-plots made the whole thing feel more like real life and less like a book. As in, in real life, if I told you a story about 4 days of my life, maybe you'd catch the end of a major drama but if I was honest with you and told you everything, you'd also find yourself hearing about something else that's not totally resolved yet. Because that's what life is: a series of chaotic events. Kekla Magoon clearly knows that. She doesn't pretend that's not the case by creating a story arc with an un-messy ending. There's no such thing as an un-messy ending. So even though I want more or fewer messy subplots, I think intellectually I know it's just how this has to be. I just wish some of the secondary characters were better utilized.

Anyway, just because this book maybe took on a little too much doesn't mean it didn't deliver. I definitely shed a few tears towards the end. The whole thing was really very moving and I loved, loved, loved how the chapter titles fit in, so if you have enough time to fit this slim little novel into your life, I would get to it.

The long and short of it?

Heavy and meaningful.
World Building: This is real life: messy, no clear conclusion and, occasionally, absolutely tragic.
Character Development: With Ellis it was top notch, but everyone else felt a little thin/neglected to me.
Prose: Wonderfully lyrical.
Would I Recommend This Book?: I did just say you should fit this one in, didn't I?

Have you read this one? If you haven't, I think you should. If you have, how did you feel about all those sub-plots? Let me know in the comments below! 


  1. This sounds like an interesting contemporary read! I'm not sure how I feel about it lacking (slightly) character development. I've never heard of this one before, but I'm definitely intrigued now!

    1. Well the MC isn't lacking development. It's the supporting cast that's a little thin. But it's for the best, I think. I don't know. I really liked it but I wanted more? If you like contemp it's DEFINITELY worth the read.


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