Wednesday, February 17, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: How Many Letters Are In Goodbye? by Yvonne Cassidy

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. The scheduled publication date for this book is March 8, 2016.

It's been almost eleven years since Rhea Farrell last wrote to her mother. It was a Friday night ritual - until Rhea's father decided it was stupid to write letters to a dead person. That was the summer before the accident. The summer before Rhea began to keep her first secret.
Now about to turn eighteen, Rhea finds herself alone on the streets of New York with nobody to talk to about the future, or the past. So, just like she used to do as a little girl, she begins a letter with the words 'Dear Mum' and tells her mother the things she can't tell anyone else.

There were several good things about this book, but also some not so good things. For most of the book, I was going to give this one two stars. But then I had to bump it up to three, based on a few things that happened around the middle and the end of the story.

Okay, so first of all, the entire book is told through letters that Rhea is writing to her dead mom. The synopsis didn't really make that clear, so I will just get that out of the way. Normally, I love books told in formats different from a traditional narrative. The issue I have with letters is that they are boring. Not always, I know, but they were here. When you are dealing with letters and especially letters to your dead mother, you expect some sort of emotion. But these letters were very cold for the first fifteen percent of the book or so. It was basically saying "I did this" and "Then this happened" so I didn't enjoy it. And I don't understand why Rhea instead on putting the date and time stamp on every letter. That's distracting. 

After a while, I got more into the letters, maybe because Rhea got more into the emotions of everything and I started getting invested in her story. Rhea's mom died when she was really young and she was raised by an alcoholic father. When Rhea was seven, she lost her arm due to an accident with a meat grinder. When Rhea is a teenager, her father dies in a car accident and she is taken in by her aunt, her aunt's boyfriend and her aunt's boyfriend's daughter. To top it off, she is struggling with her sexuality. When the book begins, Rhea is living on the streets of New York City and is struggling to survive with her friend, Sergei. In the letters, Rhea tells of her history with her family and everything that led to her being homeless. Rhea was discriminated against a lot because of her arm. Everyone assumed she was disabled and that she couldn't do anything. That could not have been further from the truth. The author does tackle a lot of important topics, like homelessness and abuse and neglect and sexuality and depression and alcoholism and even prostitution. Does that seem like a lot of issues? That's because it was. And this book is almost 500 pages and yet, it only takes place over the span of a couple of months. I think that was my other issue: the story was so long that it started to drag a bit. 

At first, I did wonder why she wrote to her mom instead of her father, especially because she didn't even remember her mom. But I think it was because she kind of idealized her mom and could imagine how her life would have turned out if her mom had not died. Part of the reason I grew to like this book was because of all the character development and her realization about who her mom was and who she was. She ended up working at a summer camp for homeless kids and that was my favorite part of the book because Rhea learned way more than the kids did. At the beginning of the summer, she hated everything about the camp and its rules and the head counselor (Jean), but by the end of the summer, she had completely turned around. There were so many things that happened over the course of that summer and I ended up tearing up more than once.

This book had a few issues, but it ended up being very moving.

Buy/Borrow/Skip: I would recommend skipping this one.

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