Title: Love and Leftovers
Author: Sarah Tregay
Publisher: Katherine Teagan Books
Other Reviews for This Author: None
Sometimes, books surprise you. Sometimes, the general readership of the blogging world that you know of surprises you. Love and Leftovers was a book that I had hopes for, but those hopes steadily went down...and down...as more and more people were talking about it as a book that could have been better. It was becoming one of those books that didn't meet the mark, much like Kiss Crush Collide. Now, the reviews of Love and Leftovers weren't so scathing as that, but they did make going to read it a bit of a worry. Love and Leftovers is thankfully a book that surprises in good ways - in ways that many of its critics found flat, yet I found to be refreshing. It's a book in verse that is about real people and real love in all of its frustrating, difficult, mixed-morality.
Divorce sucks. Because of divorce, Marcie finds herself living life with her mother in their summer house in New Hampshire. Past Labor Day. Because of divorce, Marcie will have to start her sophomore year of high school in New Hampshire while her mother is grieving over her failed marriage, barely able to pay attention to her daughter. Marcie understands where her mother is coming from; Marcie lost trust and love, too, because of it. How was she supposed to know that her father would do everything right in his marriage - until, after seventeen years, he finally couldn't hide the fact that he was actually gay any longer. It suddenly didn't seem so easy for Marcie to remember the good parts of either of her parents without thinking about the reasons behind the divorce.
Marcie didn't just leave behind a state; a father; a way of living. She left behind her friends. Friends who, like her, were considered social 'leftovers', taking on the name as a moniker of their high school existence. She left behind a boyfriend named Linus as well - whose name, reminiscent of the Peanuts character, is completely different from his chosen aesthetic of emo songwriter/musician. Marcie's entire life has shifted along with her location. In New Hampshire, she doesn't seem to be one of the leftovers anymore. She doesn't have any of the social baggage that weighed her down in Boise, Idaho. She has the chance to be a completely new person.
The new Marcie is just a mask. It's a way for her to hide from all of the scary truths about her life. A new boy, J.D., comes into her life and seems to be everything that Linus isn't: popular, collected, and physical with her. As Marcie looks back on her relationship with Linus, she can't help but remember his reluctance to be physical with her despite their relationship. She can't help but forget some things about him as J.D. unknowingly takes the role of a hero in her time of need. Marcie can't exactly turn to a boy who is states away for comfort, and her mother offers none of it as she slips further and further into her own little depression. Sophomore year is more than a new place and a new identity for Marcie. It's a time in which she realizes that she doesn't know who she really is anymore. Is she dating Linus? J.D.? Is she cheating on Linus while dating J.D.? Is Marcie still a leftover - or someone new?
The thing about verse novels is that they bring a whole new meaning of 'intensity' to the first-person perspective. You're not just looking into a by-the-book narrative of a character. You're looking into a narrative that is composed of very artistic, very fluid representations of the character's emotions and thought processes. True, this is the general idea of any novel, but verse has a way of adding an extra amount of personalization to it, focusing entirely on emotions and personal perceptions than extraneous exposition needed to set the scene. Marcie's viewpoint via the verse in Love and Leftovers is thus two things: extremely personal and extremely subjective. The reader doesn't know the full extent of Marcie's family situation because of her limited perspective, though the reader does know that Marcie's concerns lie with more than the status of her parents' marriage. The reader sees that the move and the stress only bring out Marcie's feelings of insecurity and loneliness. Her boyfriend is much too far away to comfort her, and on top of that she can barely remember his gentle physicality. So, watching her take the chance to reinvent herself becomes a coping mechanism. The old Marcie - the the leftover Marcie - seems to go to the background with the newly-gay father and the depressed mother. The new Marcie has a boy who sends sparks through her with his touch and has a social life that the old Marice could only dream of. Love and Leftovers isn't about how a girl can reinvent herself, though, but about how you can't change yourself to escape your problems. The reader sees Marcie as she builds up this new person only to do something that she truly regrets with all of her heart. This is something that will majorly effect the reader's interpretation of the story. ::Spoilers (highlight to read):: Marcie basically cheats on Linus. Completely, totally cheats. There's a lot of regret and forgiveness after it, but some readers will not be able to get past this part of her characterization. ::End Spoilers:: Tregay makes it clear that the path to love and happiness is difficult and not perfect, and she gives her heroine a strong enough character arc that I, as a reader, believed that the narrative made sense.
The downside to the verse format is that the other characters don't get a lot of depth or full explanation behind their actions. We're severely limited by Marcie's poetic observations. Love and Leftovers manages to make Marcie's story feel contained enough that this doesn't hinder the enjoyment, but it does prevent the other characters from being very memorable in comparison to Marcie and her emotions. Her depiction of her mother was pretty straight-forward and at times felt a bit unfocused. Tregay won major points with me by making her parental characters feel human and whole, yet Marcie's mother is so depressed that it's hard for the reader to truly gauge who she is as an individual until later in the story. Marcie's dad is not in the story much, yet I loved his depiction because Tregay did not attempt to demonize him or his narrative for Marcie. Quite the contrary. Her father and his partner are loving, caring individuals that make Marcie realize that living with pure judgement over her parents' divorce is pointless. The love interests were also unique in their own ways, although it's by no means a real love triangle. Linus is cute and easy to like because of how he respects Marcie, yet it's also understandable as to why Marcie would have mistaken his gentle personality for lack of passion during her time of confusion. J.D. is more physical, true, and less deeply attached to Marcie on an emotional level, but he still gives her something that she needs and attends to her needs on an emotional level when she's struggling. Neither of these boys is bad. Marcie isn't bad. The romance and Marcie's struggle to understand why she gets feelings for J.D. while still having feelings for Linus are complicated, realistic scenarios that Tregay depicts with a lot of class and detail. Both of the boys had purpose in the narrative and allowed for some light, romantic moments to accompany the heavier ones.
Tregay's writing, more than anything, is what makes this book special. She's another YA author that writes accessible verse. Verse is usually a quick read for me, but even by those standards I found Marcie's story to be compelling. Tregay shows moments that are breezy and pure fun while weaving a story that is heavier and far more emotionally detailed than the reader expects. What Tregay can do that other verse novelists can't is write a novel that - upon opening it at any page - makes you feel like you're getting a full, complete moment of someone's life within a page or two. Her verse is a compulsory read. I open the book, scan the page to remember something, and find myself reading a poem or ten. It's not purple prose or dynamic plotting. Tregay writes about the simple events of a girl's life. She shows the complexities, the worries about sex, and the boys. She shows the tears and the heartaches. The shopping trips, the time spent doing homework. This book is not a book that advances because it has an eventful plot pushing it forward. Tregay writes it as a girl would tell it, and Marcie's story makes for one that is just so darn fun to read. Everything about Tregay's writing talks of teenage emotion and reality without being overbearing, pretentious, or simplified. Simply, it's honest.
It's needless to say that I expect good things from Tregay as she writes more books. Marcie's story may not have had a giant cast of characters that each left an imprint on my memory, but Marcie herself was a heroine that took risks. She told a story that was full of romance and heartache. Marcie told a story that didn't show herself in the best light, yet was unabashed in how important it was to tell the entirety of it. Tregay made a heroine that challenged modern romance conventions in a way that was controversial but made sense. It worked for me. On top of that, her writing was fabulous. The kind of fabulous that will have me recommending this book as a great example of YA contemporary novels and YA verse novels. Love and Leftovers may not have a fancy plot or premise, but it hits the reader in the heart, right where it hurts the most.
Cover: This cover is adorable and simple. I know the "two pairs of shoes" thing is becoming cliche, but it captures the tone of the story (minus some of the heavier bits).
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Copy: Received from publisher/publicist for review (Thank you, Heather and Harper Collins!)