Review: 34 Pieces of You by Carmen Rodrigues

busy weekend! the irish won, i did a lot of driving, and i still haven't found my driver's license. yikes. here's a review! 

title:  34 Pieces of You

author: Carmen Rodrigues

pages: 336

format: Hardcover

isbn/asin: 978-1442439061

buy it: Amazon

rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 8/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for: People who loved 13 Reasons Why or Crank. Teenagers. Lost souls.  Young adults.  People who support mental health.

A dark and moving novel—reminiscent of Thirteen Reasons Why—about the mystery surrounding a teenage girl’s fatal overdose.

There was something about Ellie…Something dangerous. Charismatic. Broken. Jake looked out for her. Sarah followed her lead. And Jess kept her distance—and kept watch.

Now Ellie’s dead, and Jake, Sarah, and Jess are left to pick up the pieces. All they have are thirty-four clues she left behind. Thirty-four strips of paper hidden in a box beneath her bed. Thirty-four secrets of a brief and painful life.

Jake, Sarah, and Jess all feel responsible for what happened to Ellie, and all three have secrets of their own. As they confront the past, they will discover not only the darkest truths about themselves, but also what Ellie herself had been hiding all along….

the basics
The review you're about to read is very different from the review I would have written after the first few chapters of the book.  With all the comparisons to 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, a favorite of mine, I had pretty lofty expectations.  34 Pieces of You wasn't exactly what I expected--but with each page, I found myself enjoying it more and becoming more entranced with the characters and their world.  It's also amazing how little Ellie actually appears in the text.  You see her through the eyes of others, eyes that have their own biases, agendas, and blindspots.  Sometimes the chronological jumps made the plot difficult to follow; but overall, you didn't need to track the exact order of everything to get a powerful impression.  I'd read this again, and recommend it to anyone looking for a compelling, well-written story with a lot of real-world impact.

plot . 4/5
The impact of having multiple narrators (three, to be exact) and jumping between time periods is that sometimes, the plot is hard to follow.  I kept having to reorient myself: okay, so Ellie died in November and this was March.  Was this before or after that other thing happened?  Aside from that, I really enjoyed the plot.  Hints are dropped early on.  Stories unfold piece-by-piece.  You never get the exact truth, because the only person who knows is Ellie herself, so you're left with exactly what the characters are left with: clues and impressions.  I thought it was great that they never found all the answers.  It leaves you guessing, and it feels more realistic.  You don't need perfect closure to find meaning in the end.  Also, the scenes between Jessie and Ellie were my favorite.  I basically hugged my book.

concept . 5/5
The concept was different than I'd been expecting from the blurb.  I thought that the characters would find the box of clues and piece it together throughout the story, like a mystery.  Instead, the clues were chapter headings that loosely related to the chapter content.  You weren't 100% sure about the stories behind them.  The characters didn't even all know about the clues until later in the book.  I ended up really liking it this way.  It really emphasized how complicated Ellie's situation was, how private she was, and how there were so many things about her that people didn't know.  After I finished the book, I read through just the clues again, and found that their meanings were so much richer now that I had context.

characters . 4/5
I loved that you mostly saw Ellie through the recollections of others.  Sometimes she appeared herself, but a lot of times, it was people talking about her after-the-fact.  You had to piece together who she was, just like putting those clues together.  I thought Jessie and Sarah were the strongest narrators.  Jake didn't feel as different from them as he could have.  His voice was too similar.  Jessie and Sarah were pretty distinct, though.  I felt like I really got to know them and their own inner demons.  I loved Jessie.  Tommy could have been fleshed out more.  I didn't have a very strong grasp on his role.  I got the idea enough to understand the plot, but felt like there were huge gaps.

style . 5/5
It's a little more poetic than I'd expect of teenagers, but I think it works here.  These are all very insightful, introspective teens.  It makes sense that they'd have a lot of personal metaphors and carefully constructed descriptions about their lives.  It's hard for some adults to sound like teens when they write, but Rodrigues does a great job.  I believe her characters.  I believe their reactions.  I think she makes a well-written, pretty story that's still easily readable by even younger teens.

mechanics . 5/5
Nothing too notable here.  The cover was perfect, especially after you've read the book.  It just sets the right mood.

take home message
A multifaceted memoir about three teenagers trying to put together a puzzle with missing pieces, all to understand the sudden death of their friend.  The narrative is emotional, thoughtful, and ultimately allows the reader to form their own impressions.

Note: I purchased this copy. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.

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