Mia’s first reaction is outright disbelief. Obviously, a mistake has been made. Sixteen-year-old girls don’t die. But, when the diagnosis is confirmed, she dives headlong into anger. If she has to die, why should it be of cancer? In fact, anything would be preferable to cancer. Better for her to say when, where, and especially how.
Determined to meet death on her own terms, Mia devises scheme after scheme to get the job done. A “fall” down the basement stairs, driving her car off a bridge, and even a dance with a train all end in her survival.
And through it all, Mia keeps her family and friends at arms’ length with her destructive and hurtful behavior. With each failed suicide attempt and burned relationship, she slowly realizes that it’s not the dying that she’s afraid of, but the life she’ll be leaving behind. Now, that life is in a shambles. As time begins to slip through her fingers and death is upon her, Mia fights to rebuild the bridges she has destroyed, but can she do it before the clock runs out?
It’s not the sort of book I’d usually choose to read and I’m still not sure what possessed me to get it. It sat on my Kindle for several weeks before I even opened it. And then I took my time reading it. I needed to be in the right mindset to read about a teenage girl dying of cancer. But once I really let myself get into the story, I couldn’t put it down.
The writing is strong, the characters beautifully crafted, the story heartbreaking. But I knew that going into it. I knew Mia was going to die from the very first page. What I didn’t know was how. See Mia refuses to let the cancer take her. She wants to say when and how she’s going to die, refusing to let cancer dictate the terms.
She not only struggles with her own emotions but with those closest to her — her parents, her younger brother, her friends, including dreamy Kal, her “always and forever” best friend and next door neighbor. As Mia moves through the stages of grief, she attempts various ways at ending her life on her terms, on her schedule, alienating everyone around her with each attempt.
The author does a phenomenal job telling Mia’s story, taking us through each stage of the process right along with Mia. Even though we know we’re going to lose her, we can’t help pulling for her, rooting for her as she tries to repair the relationships she damaged before it’s too late.
The plot is strong, even though this is primarily a character-driven story. The way the author weaves Mia’s story through the five stages of grief is brilliant and beautiful. And there are no guarantees with a story like this. You want her to repair her relationships for everyone’s sake, but with such a tragic story, it’s not a given. That kept me turning the page.
The characters are…simply amazing. They’re deep and flawed and perfectly human in every sense of the word. Mia just begs us to love her without even trying and Kal is so deeply wounded, you cry for him almost as much as you cry for Mia. And the author doesn’t phone it in on the supporting characters either. Everyone is rich and dynamic and as real as Mia and Kal.
No, this is not the sort of book I’d normally choose to read, but I’m so very glad that I did. I don’t know that I’ll choose another book like it, because it was painful. Beautifully so, but still painful. But I cannot say one negative thing about this book and I recommend it to anyone who wants to read a deep story with authentic characters told with grace and dignity. Five out of five stars and a bucketful of bittersweet tears.
Title: Always and Forever
Author: Karla J. Nellenbach
Publisher: Booktrope Editions
Category: Teen and Young Adult, Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links to Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble