Marlena by Julie Buntin was released in April of last year and I knew it was going to be a deep read and I put it off, until recently. I wasn’t wrong, it’s emotional but beautifully written. I hope you will check out my thoughts below.
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Category: Adult, Upper YA, Realistic Fiction
Publication: April 4th, 2017; Henry Holt and Co.
An electric debut novel about love, addiction, and loss; the story of two girls and the feral year that will cost one her life, and define the other’s for decades
Everything about fifteen-year-old Cat’s new town in rural Michigan is lonely and off-kilter, until she meets her neighbor, the manic, beautiful, pill-popping Marlena. Cat, inexperienced and desperate for connection, is quickly lured into Marlena’s orbit by little more than an arched eyebrow and a shake of white-blond hair. As the two girls turn the untamed landscape of their desolate small town into a kind of playground, Cat catalogues a litany of firsts—first drink, first cigarette, first kiss—while Marlena’s habits harden and calcify. Within the year, Marlena is dead, drowned in six inches of icy water in the woods nearby. Now, decades later, when a ghost from that pivotal year surfaces unexpectedly, Cat must try to forgive herself and move on, even as the memory of Marlena keeps her tangled in the past.
Alive with an urgent, unshakable tenderness, Julie Buntin’s Marlena is an unforgettable look at the people who shape us beyond reason and the ways it might be possible to pull oneself back from the brink.
“The truth is both a vast wilderness and the tiniest space you can imagine.”
Marlena is a deep and emotional novel about Cat, a thirty-something woman who is in distress and thinking about the most formative year in her life. When Cat was 15, her parents divorced, she was forced to move to a rural lake town. That is where she met her neighbor, Marlena, her life would never be the same.
The thing I loved most about this book is that it is told from the future about the past. However, the past is taking place in our near current timeline. Things like YouTube & cell phones and all give away that detail. We also have an unreliable narrator, Cat is dwindling, hanging on by a thread. She is an alcoholic and her relationships are failing, but she can’t quite understand how she is here and Marlena, with all her potential is gone.
My review cannot give words to what this story has to offer. It is sad, heartbreaking, and also truthful. Teenagers do stupid things, the hope is that we can learn and grow from our mistakes to make us better humans down the line. Marlena is an addict, but she was also a beautiful soul who had no support system. Cat was a smart teen who was angry about her father’s abandonment of her family and decides it was time for her to rebel. Her and Marlena take on their small town without consequences. Except sometimes consequences can catch up to us.
Cat can’t accept or understand, even all these years later, just how Marelena died. She knows drugs were involved, but she assumes people were also involved. She dwells on her death, on that one year, on all she did and didn’t do. We don’t know what really happened, but we do know the system failed Marlena. Cat and her family tried to save her, but did they truly know what she was doing?
This book wrecked me, but not in the sobbing mess way, but in the how can our country be so obtuse about drugs. How do so many children go without proper care, love, and support? Marlena is not a light read, it is difficult and broken. The sense of loss runs so deep, it hurt. It is a poignant look into the crisis of addiction in this country and the impact it leaves behind.