Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Book Review: Some of the Parts by Hannah Barnaby

Publisher’s description

some of the partsFor months, Tallie McGovern has been coping with the death of her older brother the only way she knows how: by smiling bravely and pretending that she’s okay. She’s managed to fool her friends, her parents, and her teachers, yet she can’t even say his name out loud: “N—” is as far as she can go. Then Tallie comes across a letter in the mail, and it only takes two words to crack the careful façade she’s built up:

Two words that had apparently been checked off on her brother’s driver’s license; two words that her parents knew about—and never revealed to her. All at once, everything Tallie thought she understood about her brother’s death feels like a lie. And although a part of her knows he’s gone forever, another part of her wonders if finding the letter might be a sign. That if she can just track down the people on the other end of those two words, it might somehow bring him back.

Hannah Barnaby’s deeply moving novel asks questions there are no easy answers to as it follows a family struggling to pick up the pieces, and a girl determined to find the brother she wasn’t ready to let go of.


Amanda’s thoughts

Let’s just jump straight to the last thing I wrote in my review notes: SO. GOOD.


Tallie’s not really sure how to get on with her life after her brother is killed in a car accident. She wants to try to return to normal, but it’s hard to say what that even means anymore. She thinks maybe relying on some self-selected rituals will help, but they’re not doing much. She knows everyone looks at her and sees death. She’s not the same person she was before her brother was killed—how could she be? Her best friends now completely avoid her, her parents are grieving in their own private ways, and Tallie’s holding on to so much grief, guilt, and anger that even pretending for a second that “normal” is possible is ridiculous. At least she has her friend Mel to distract her. Mel shows up when she needs a diversion and keeps her entertained with her brash ways and weird interest in taxidermy. Tallie’s not the greatest friend back to her, but she kind of gets a pass right now if she comes off a bit self-centered. Then there’s Chase, the new guy in town who has the odd hobby of maintaining a scrapbook full of tragedies as a way of memorializing people who will never have biographies written about them. He and Tallie become friends, though neither are completely honest with the other at first.


It would be enough to figure out how to navigate life after losing her brother, but when she learns that he was an organ donor, Tallie’s focus takes a new turn. Knowing there are pieces of Nate still out there in this world, Tallie becomes obsessed with contacting the recipients of his organs and stops at nothing to achieve this goal. Tallie lies and schemes, roping Chase into her plans, not really sure how things will pan out.


This gut-wrenching story is beautifully written. Barnaby writes so movingly about the very complicated experience of grief. Having lost my own dad in a car accident a few years back, I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to make it through the book and give it the full attention it deserves. But, like Tim Federle’s wonderful The Great American Whatever, the grief depicted here is so raw, nuanced, and compelling. Tallie’s a mess—we see that as the story reveals details we don’t immediately know and as her quest pushes her to the edges of what she can handle. Barnaby’s novel is a devastating and powerful look at grief, guilt, and how to survive the aftermath of something that changes who you are. A must-read. 


Review copy courtesy of the author and the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780553539639

Publisher: Random House Children’s Books

Publication date: 02/16/2016

Book Review: Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby

When we meet Quinn, in Jessi Kirby’s Things We Know by Heart,  it has been 400 days since her boyfriend Trent was killed in an accident. In those 400 days, Quinn has been wallowing in her grief and wallowing HARD (and who can blame her?). She’s basically stopped doing everything she once enjoyed and doesn’t interact with anyone beyond her family. She keeps track of each day since Trent was killed as some kind of vigil, a testament to their love and to his memory. As she says at one point, she’s essentially an 18-year-old widow.


The only good thing to come out of Trent’s death was the fact that five people became recipients of his organs. Working through the right avenues, Trent’s family (including Quinn) can reach out to the recipients and vice versa. Quinn has heard back from and met four of the people, but the fifth one, the one who received his heart, is elusive. But it’s 2015 and no one can remain elusive long thanks to the internet. Quinn does some savvy researching and discovers that recipient #5 is a boy named Colton. Though she knows she shouldn’t, she goes off in search of him, not sure what she’ll do if she finds him. She meets him in a convoluted way—they are in the same coffee shop and Quinn panics and flees, leaving her purse behind, which he returns, and then gets into a minor car accident that he witnesses. Instead of revealing who she is and what she’s doing looking for him, she just gets to know him while keeping everything a secret—a plan that is sure to cause some waves.


It is, of course, predictable that Quinn and Colton will fall for each other. You can also guess that this is confusing for Quinn—is it because Colton has Trent’s heart? Does this somehow affect how Colton feels toward her? You can also guess that when the truth of their connection is finally revealed to Colton, he doesn’t love that she has been keeping all of this from him. BUT what moves this beyond simply being a predictable story about love, loss, and lies are the very real feelings Quinn goes through as she processes everything from the past 400 days and everything that is happening to her now. She is happy with Colton. He’s good for her, and she’s good for him. They really just kind of do the same things over and over and that’s all it takes for them to feel content and enjoy each other. They don’t have a particularly deep connection, mainly because of the amount of things both parties are holding back, but their attachment to each other grows in a realistic way, especially once the truth comes out.


Each chapter starts with a quote about hearts or transplants—some scientific, some poetic. The scientific ones help inform the readers about organ donation and how hearts function in the body. Readers might be tempted to skip over these precursors to the chapter but would be remiss in doing so. Though the story follows a completely predictable trajectory, the tension that comes from Quinn having this big secret is really what carries the story. This will be an easy one to move off the shelves–a romance that is as much about loss as it is about love. A moving look at how our lives go on even in the face of almost unthinkable tragedies and obstacles. 


ISBN-13: 9780062299437
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 4/21/2015