I was able to get this book early through Book of the Month Club. If you haven’t checked them out before I highly recommend doing so. They always have a great selection, and you can add additional books each month for $9.99.
Marlena by Julie Buntin
Rating: 4 stars
Reading about Marlena and Cat reminded me of high school in my hometown. How horrible it was if you didn’t fit in and how desperately you would cling to any shred of acceptance, no matter how dangerous it was. Cat is trying to reinvent herself after she is forced to move with her mom and brother after her parents’ divorce. She is switched out of an academically rigorous private school to the local high school, attended by students who either dream being one of the few who manage to escape their dead-end town or have accepted that they will end up stuck there themselves (again, just like my hometown).
Cat is soon drawn into Marlena’s orbit, as Marlena appears to be the worldly and fearless woman Cat wishes to be. She lives basically on her own, taking care of her little brother after her mother ran off and her dad, a local meth maker, is hardly around. Soon Cat is drinking, smoking, and skipping school to hang out with Marlena and her friends, who adopt Cat into their group. Cat doesn’t think of the long term consequences for her behavior or Marlena’s increasing pill addiction, believing that Marlena is capable enough to handle herself and any interference would be seen as a betrayal. They think it’s their world and any adult who tries to help just doesn’t get it (a universal feeling among teenagers).
Throughout the novel we also see Cat as a thirty-something functioning alcoholic working at a library in New York. While she has a well paying job and husband who loves her, she isn’t able to shake the influence of her year with Marlena.
This book was both thrilling and devastating as it made it’s way to the predictably heartbreaking conclusion of Cat and Marlena’s friendship. It’s an intense read but well worth it, and you will finish it thinking back to your own high school years.