I heard about Margo Rabb's book, Cures for Heartbreak, from Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray, and also saw a positive review by Kelly Herold at Big A little a. So, in need of another book to read on my trip to Portland last week, I picked up a copy. Now I'm trying to review it, but I keep getting stuck on "wow!".
Cures for Heartbreak is about how 15-year-old Mia Pearlman copes with her mother's sudden death from melanoma, and her father's subsequent hospitalization for heart problems. Which might make you think that it's a sad or depressing book. But it isn't. Cures for Heartbreak is funny and compelling, with a heady mix of the philosophical and the absurd. Sure, it's about Mia's grief, and guilt, and the hole that her mother's absence leaves in her life. But it's also about her quest to fall in love, her father's unexpected means of coping, and her sister's escape into academia. It's about finding a best friend, wearing too much makeup, and eating vast quantities of junk food. The lighter aspects of the story provide leavening for the darker subjects.
Margo Rabb's writing is both eloquent and moving. She drops clever observations and brilliant turns of phrase like little gifts for the reader. But at the same time, she's not afraid to write about what really matters. You can tell, even without the explanatory afterword, that she actually experienced the emotions that she describes. There's a level of emotional honesty here that can't be faked. Here is an example that shows Mia's grief:
I couldn't stop crying. I knew it was the wrong time to cry publicly now, so late for my mother's death, so prematurely for my father's. What no one ever tells you is that people don't die all at once, but again and again in waves, before their deaths and after. ... I kept crying until my sister put her arms around me, my fallen eyelashes folded inside a crumpled tissue, and said "Come on," and took me to the cafeteria to eat.
And here is a small example of Margo Rabb's poetic eloquence:
Businessmen marched up Fifth like a gray tweed parade; we strode to the bakery and gazed at the pastries rising like a hundred half-moons in the window.
And here is an example that captures both the poetic language and the honest portrayal of Mia's grief, as she opens up to a new friend:
The scrapbook, the one of my mother, lay on the shelf beside my bed; she picked it up. My heart flinched to watch her open the quilted cover: there were my insides, spilling out on the page. I was embarrassed for her to see this raw, doting, unharnessed outpouring. My mother, in every period of her life, in every year of mine.
I think that, among other things, this book is about is how the major wounds that people sustain are passed from generation to generation. Mia's Jewish mother was a baby when she left Europe just before the Holocaust. But she (the mother) was still scarred by it, by the empty branches in her family tree, and by the impact of the genocide on her parents, who never hugged her. She in turn caused grief for Mia, and Mia's father, through her own insecurities (though she unquestionably loved her daughter). Traumatic events leave long shadows. I know that my own life, and the person I am today, has been strongly influenced by the death of my mother's mother, long before I was born, when my mother was very young. The afterword of Cures for Heartbreak resonated very strongly with me.
I think that Margo Rabb is incredibly brave, to be able to share her feelings about the loss of her parents through this novel. Anyone who has ever suffered a loss will be able to relate to Mia's inappropriate laughter, bouts of tears, and attachment to everything that her mother ever touched. The magic is that the book ends with a sense of hope.
So what are the cures for heartbreak? For Mia, they include shopping, eating junk food, finding a best friend, and looking for love (because "A crush removed the world, at least for a little while"). But I think that what Margo Rabb is showing here is that the real cure for heartbreak is to live your life to the fullest, even though the grief from the loss of a parent will never entirely go away. Highly recommended.
Book: Cures for Heartbreak
Author: Margo Rabb (see also this site, about her Missing Persons series)
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Original Publication Date: February 13, 2007
Age Range: 13 and up
Source of Book: Purchased it
Other Blog Reviews: Big A little a
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.