Book Review: The Catastrophic History of You and Me
By: Jess Rothenberg
Published By: Speak
Publication Date: April 2013 (Paperback Edition)
Page Count: 400
Source: Won from Penguin Teen
Audience: Young Adult - Fantasy
Being a teenager is hard enough, but throw in dying from a broken heart, and its downright cruel and unusual. Brie is your average fifteen year old - she has a supportive family, great friends, and an amazing boyfriend - all until she doesn't.... On the evening before her sixteenth birthday, her boyfriend, Jacob, takes her on a date and tells her he doesn't love her anymore. Brie's heart literally shatters into two pieces, snuffing out the light of her young existence. How could these be possible? How could simple words like "I don't love you?" cause someone to die? Brie's statement that "falling in love is pretty much the same thing as being eaten alive by a grizzly bear" (pg. 3) seems to be all too true.
Brie knows she's dead, but she can't quite seem to make herself leave. She's sure there is a light or Heaven or some place she should be, but the only place she wants to be is in her old life. A small part of her hopes this is all a wicked bad dream, but things become real quickly when she observes her funeral, a memorial service at her school, and her burial. Brie doesn't know what to do next, but somehow she ends up in her small slice of Heaven. Who knew Heaven was a pizza joint?
Brie really isn't sure how this dead and gone thing is supposed to work, but she soon befriends another deceased teen, Patrick, who shows her the ropes. The relationship between these two is one of my favorites in YA literature. It's complex and unexpected, yet incredibly sweet. The banter between these two kept me laughing in spite of the tragic circumstances that brought them together.
One thing Patrick teaches Brie are the five stages of death: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Sadness, and Acceptance. The story is structured in six parts - the first being Ashes to Ashes - while the remaining sections deal with the five stages. I loved that Rothenberg used this format to tell Brie's story.
Furthermore, I also found the commentary on grief to be realistic and poignant. Readers don't only see how Brie responds to her passing, but we also get glimpses into the lives of those she left behind. These sections were often the hardest for me to read. Luckily, the little fissures of heartbreak I experienced while reading, healed enough to keep me from experiencing Brie's fate. I ended this one with a sense of hope.
Nobody truly knows what waits for us on the other side of life, but I can only hope that it involves pizza, wishes, and endless days of happiness.
Be sure to avoid spoilers! I knew nothing about this one beyond what I gathered from the back cover.
I wasn't expecting to love this story as much as I did, but it is going onto my favorites shelf. Losing myself in this one was a bittersweet journey that was equal parts tears, laughter, apprehension, and contemplation. Brie and Patrick came alive and their story bloomed in my mind like a film. Rothenberg's debut showcases the beauty and sadness that death brings to us all.
One Last Gripe: Shockingly, I don't have one. I loved this novel that much. The moment I finished, I wanted to reread it.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: The unexpected twists and turns - you'll know 'em when you read 'em
First Sentence: There's always that one guy who gets a hold on you.
Favorite Character: Patrick, but Brie is a close second
Least Favorite Character: Mrs. Brenner
Brie is the “biggest, cheesiest, sappiest romantic” who believes that everyone will find their perfect someone, so when Jacob, the love of Brie's life, tells her he doesn't love her anymore, the news breaks her heart, literally, and she dies. But now that she's D&G (dead and gone), Brie revisits the living world to discover that her family has begun to unravel and her best friend has been keeping an intimate secret about her boyfriend. Somehow, Brie must handle all of this while navigating through the five steps of grief with the help of Patrick, her mysterious bomber-jacketed guide to the afterlife. But how is she supposed to face the Ever After with a broken heart and no one to call her own?