Come See About Me
Author: C.K. Kelly Martin
Publication Date: 6/2012
Blurb(GR): Twenty-year-old Leah Fischer's been in a state of collapse since the moment police arrived on her Toronto doorstep to inform her that boyfriend Bastien was killed in a car accident. After flunking out of university and cutting herself off from nearly everyone she knows, Leah's saved by Bastien's aunt who offers her a rent-free place to stay in a nearby suburban town.
Initially Leah keeps to herself, with no energy for anyone or anything else, but it's not long before her nurturing neighbours begin to become fixtures in Leah's life and a much needed part-time job forces her to interact with other members of the community. And when Leah is faced with another earth-shattering event, her perspective on life begins to shift again. Soon Leah's falling into a casual sexual relationship with Irish actor Liam Kellehan, who has troubles of his own, even as she continues to yearn for her dead boyfriend. Clearly she's not the person she thought she was—and maybe Liam isn't either.
Author: C.K. Kelly Martin
Publication Date: 9/25/12
Publisher: Random House
Blurb(GR): THEN: The formation of the UNA, the high threat of eco-terrorism, the mammoth rates of unemployment and subsequent escape into a world of virtual reality are things any student can read about in their 21st century textbooks and part of the normal background noise to Freya Kallas's life. Until that world starts to crumble.
NOW: It's 1985. Freya Kallas has just moved across the world and into a new life. On the outside, she fits in at her new high school, but Freya feels nothing but removed. Her mother blames it on the grief over her father's death, but how does that explain the headaches and why do her memories feel so foggy? When Freya lays eyes on Garren Lowe, she can't get him out of her head. She's sure that she knows him, despite his insistence that they've never met. As Freya follows her instincts and pushes towards hidden truths, the two of them unveil a strange and dangerous world where their days may be numbered.
Many of my friends have urged me to try out C.K. Kelly Martin over the past year, and it just so happened that I ended up reading two of her books in succession this summer – two very different books, as it turns out. I liked one of them a good deal and the other one…not so much. So today, I thought I’d pull out the old Sandwich Method ™ and review them both in one post.
So. Firstly, for the delicious bread part of the sandwich (I’m thinking it’s Great Harvest white cheddar and garlic): Come See About Me really stands out amongst its YA brethren. Which may or may not be because it’s actually an adult novel. Yeah, okay…maybe it’s not quite appropriate for the younger side of YA, but I would easily recommend this to anyone 16 and older. The protagonist is in her early twenties and is experiencing debilitating grief for the first time. She’s a young person trying to learn how to cope with loss, school, parents, and relationships. It reads like a YA. It walks like a YA. It quacks like a YA. The only way that it doesn’t quite fit the YA mold (particularly in America) is that it contains a few sex scenes.
Let’s talk about the sex scenes because they were – seriously – my favorite part of the book. (Cue the studio audience track going Oooooooooh.) No, no, not in that way. (Okay, a little bit in that way.) The sex scenes in this book are some of the most honest and healthy portrayals of sex I’ve ever read. The sex here is messy and awkward. It’s fun. It’s a stress-reliever. It’s healthy. It’s casual, but not callous. And the lovers somehow manage to do it without being perfect the one forever and ever for the rest of eternity soul mates. All of which is depressingly unheard of in our stories about young people. I love the relationship between Leah and Liam – two very flawed characters who don’t have a perfect relationship but still find some small measure of solace with each other.
I also really love the way that C.K. Kelly Martin writes. Her prose is very straightforward and stripped down in a way that reminds me of Sara Zarr. It’s the kind of writing that tends to gut me about 90% more efficiently than flowery prose ever will. However (and here’s where we start to bleed into the filling part of the sandwich – I’m thinking it starts off with mayonnaise, blergh) that just never happened for me. I never connected emotionally with this book. I think this just might be one of those times when a book and I simply don’t fit. I couldn’t relate to Leah and her complete, debilitating breakdown. No part of this story resonated with me. My own grief stayed silent and cushioned and safe in all the corners where I like to stash it away. Maybe that’s because I am not really a breakdown kind of person. I am more of a recovering shove-it-all-down-and-soldier-on type of person. Where the matter of fact voice of Holly from Holier Than Thou nearly ripped me in half, Leah’s story did almost nothing for me (more on this later).
And now we come to the part of this review where I’ve (hopefully) wedged my negative thoughts between two slices of deliciousness. Yesterday. I have very little praise for this book. I felt turned off almost immediately by this girl, who is a tall blonde piece of gorgeousness with a past and a special power she doesn’t understand and whose biggest source of angst (besides this past/power combo) is the annoying way that every boy in school wants to date her. I wish I had a loaf of Great Harvest white cheddar garlic bread for every time I’ve read that set-up in a YA novel.
The beginning is practically all telling with almost no dialogue or action – like the main character is quickly summarizing her own life. Then he told me all about something or other. Then I walked to school. Later that week I had a sandwich. Then I talked to some more people. It’s set in the eighties, but everything feels incredibly superficial. There are here and there references to things like new wave and pay phones but it never feels immersive. It feels like fakey window dressing for a flimsy, half-constructed place.
The sci-fi elements are introduced gradually to begin with, which is really what kept me reading – even as I was bored, I still wanted to find out what was really going on. But then at around 60%, the main character bizarrely decides (or rather, insists) that she needs to see a hypnotherapist – one that she randomly selects from the phone book – to uncover her latent memories. And it works. And then it turns out that what she’s been suppressing is a 20 page long, dry, encyclopedic history of her entire world – a world that seems to check every single box of the “derivative futuristic sci-fi” checklist. I wouldn’t recommend this for sci-fi fans. Or people who hate infodumps. I'm not sure what the filling of this sandwich is, but it’s dry, boring, and forgettable.
The only positive for me is that the romance is rather angst-free. There’s no unexplained love at first sight, and no tortuous “I want you but I can’t have you…” moments. Unfortunately, this book – unlike Come See About Me – contains the standard YA super long make-out scenes that the main characters seem only too willing to stop abruptly with no joy. If the survival of the human species depended on the teenagers of YA, we’d all be doomed.
Anyway, enough about that. Let’s get back to the bread. Come See About Me is one of the best self-published books I’ve ever read. Admittedly, I haven’t read very many but I’m pretty surprised that this book wasn’t picked up by someone. My friend Kelly from Stacked also compared Holier Than Thou to Come See About Me, saying (about Holier Than Thou):
“This would be a neat book to pair with CK Kelly Martin's COME SEE ABOUT ME since they tackle grief and figuring out what lies ahead for those who are young but not teenagers. I didn't think Buzo's book was as strong, but it was still enjoyable.”
I completely agree (well, except that I preferred Buzo's book). I have this theory that those of us who related strongly to Holier Than Thou won’t connect with Come See About Me and vice-versa. I’m mailing my copy of this book to Tatiana to see if my theory holds water. I have three data points so far - if you've read both of those books I'd love to have more!
As for my future with C.K. Kelly Martin, I will definitely be checking out more. I can't recommend Yesterday, but Come See About Me is worth reading. I love her writing style, and I'm convinced that one of her books will work for me.
Come See About Me: 3.5/5 Stars
Yesterday: 2/5 Stars