Thursday, November 17, 2011

Girl Pick: The Survival Kit

The Survival Kit
by Donna Freitas
Frances Foster Books (Farrar Straus Giroux)
2011
351 pages

Poignant, deeply moving, and amazing, The Survival Kit will tug at your heartstrings. Fans of Sarah Dessen books will relish this captivating novel about grief, loss, and love.

It is the day of Rose's mother's funeral, and it is all Rose can do to keep it together. She finally retreats to her mother's closet just to feel close to her again, to smell her perfume on her clothes, to see familiar dresses and hold her soft sweaters. It's then that Rose sees the brown paper bag and the dress made of night, her mother's favorite dress sprinkled with sparkling stars that she would wear to sit in the garden on beautiful summer nights. Rose lifts the bag down and sees it's one of her mother's survival kits but this one is "Rose's Survival Kit". Her mother, in her final days, has given Rose one last gift.

The bag contains: an IPod, a picture of peonies, a crystal heart, a paper star, a box of crayons, and a handmade kite. Rose doesn't open the bag right away; she just can't. She is grieving and quits the cheerleading team. She distances herself from her boyfriend of two years, popular football star Chris. They used to be THE couple, but she can't stand it when he touches her now. She doesn't want closeness. Rose can't listen to music anymore. Each song reminds her of her mother. She won't hang around with her old friends and she won't attend parties.

Rose is not the only one grieving. Rose's father is having a hard time, too. When he's not weeping, he's drinking. Rose's brother Jim is away at college and comes home only for the holidays. As Rose gets more and more distant, she finally opens the survival kit. The first thing she sees is the small kite--the kite is a symbol for letting go but just keeping close enough, too. Rose's mother used to hand out Kindergarten Survival Kits--not to the kids--to the kids' parents. So many of the parents were terrified of letting go of the children--the kite helped them see that their kids could fly high but always come home.

Rose's best friend Krupa gets her to finally agree to attend a hockey game--well, not the whole hockey game, just until after Krupa performs the national anthem, and then Krupa and Rose agree to leave. Rose accompanies her and sees some of the cheerleaders in the stands. She talks to them and is soon enjoying the game. She is having a good time for the first time in months. Will is the star of the team; he is a boy who cuts their lawn and carefully tends to her mother's manicured garden. She has never really spoken to Will--he's never noticed her either as far as she knows. Will's father died of cancer two years ago. Now they have something in common--the loss of a parent to cancer.

Can the loss of a beloved parent ever be overcome? Can sharing a loss lead to friendship--or maybe love?

Rose opens the survival kit and sees the picture of peonies. She asks Will to help her plant some peonies in her mother's garden. Come spring, there will be a bed of peonies to greet them.

As Rose begins healing and surviving, her father has a car accident and ends up in the hospital. She has to face going back to the place with all those bad memories. She asks Will for a ride to the hospital, but he appears to be in shock. He can't move. Why won't he offer her a ride?

I loved the idea of a survival kit. There would be many kinds--a survival kit for the first day of high school, the first day of college, moving into a new home, the first baby, the first job, moving away from home, going on a big trip, any big life experience could be cushioned by a survival kit.

If there is one thing I didn't like about the book--the cover art is not appealing--I would have liked a little about the book on the back cover as well. The book is so well-written with the beautiful, yet tortured, characters of Rose and Will that the cover just doesn't do it any justice at all. Do not judge this book by its cover--the story is amazing--ignore the cover.

Highly recommended grades 9-up and readers who love Sarah Dessen. Mature situations, alcoholism, grief, death, sex.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive any monetary compensation for this review.

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