by Ashley Schumacher
Published 16 February 2021
Rating: 4 Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Genre: YA Contemporary
I was granted eARC access to Amelia Unabridged via NetGalley, but when publication day snuck past me I borrowed the audiobook through Libby. Thank you anyway to whoever was in charge of approving me on NetGalley, I’m glad to have an ebook copy to return to later, and I’ll still be putting my review in all the appropriate places. My thoughts are my own and my review is honest.
Amelia Unabridged is heartbreaking, beautiful, uplifting, raw, and real. Just as Amelia’s home life is falling apart she catches the eye of a school mate she’d never approached before, Jenna, a rich girl who’s just as careful about her looks as she is about the condition of her beloved books. The unlikely pair spend high school attached at the hip, with Jenna’s well-off parents practically adopting Amelia as their second daughter and doting on her like the functional family she so desperately wishes she had. Then suddenly Jenna’s gone, buried too soon, and Amelia finds herself the substitute daughter off to college for Jenna’s parents. They want her to go to the school she and Jenna had planned to attend, and they’ll pay her way. They want her to take the degree program Jenna thought she should. They want everything to go the way it was supposed to go, and a barely-coping Amelia is willing to go along with it all. That is, until a mysterious gift appears for Amelia, mailed to the local book store. It’s a special edition of her favourite author’s first book, a printing that shouldn’t exist, and she’s convinced it’s one last gift from her best friend. Wanting answers, Amelia takes a trip to visit the book store that sent it, not expecting to find her favourite author there, only a year her senior, wallowing in the shadow of his own grief.
The first two chapters felt like a parallel universe version of my own high school years. Even though my name is Jenna, I was the Amelia in my story. The quiet bookish nerd from the broken family who bonded with an unlikely best friend over a love of books. Mine was equally well off with a complete and loving family who were willing to take me along on family vacations and indulge the two of us as we chased bookish opportunities. Mine survived summer vacation after high school but our friendship didn’t, for equally tragic reasons. Perhaps one day I’ll get the chance Amelia doesn’t get and reconnect with her. I think anyone who’s lost someone so important to them as Jenna was to Amelia, be it through death or other means but especially through death, will also see themselves in Amelia.
The rest of this book is the roller coaster of Jenna’s loved ones, and people she barely met, walking through a season of grief and learning to accept a world without a loved one (or two) in it. Amelia is learning that there’s a light at the end of this tunnel, she can find other people to love and make her happy, but it’s going to take making choices that don’t necessarily make everyone waiting for her back home all that happy. Jenna’s parents are using their honorary second daughter and the intent to keep supporting her through the original college plan as a bandaid that hides some of their loss, and they’re not ready to accept that without Jenna, Amelia’s plans for the future have changed. And that author? He’s learning that sharing more of the fantasy world he created out of grief doesn’t have to mean letting go of the memories that spawned it.
Amelia has a beautifully wild and chaotic imagination that lets her see whales swimming through the air around her, imagine a more mood-appropriate outfit change for herself in a flash, and walk through more mood-appropriate weather even if Mother Nature won’t oblige. I do like a creative character and the way the things she sees are described truly remind me of the way Celia’s performances are described in The Night Circus (which I just re-read before this,) but I’m not quite sure if I LIKE this level of immersive waking dreams for her. Amelia’s a high school graduate, 18 or about to be, and she’s lucid daydreaming ALL THE TIME. Since Jenna’s death happens so early on in the book it’s hard to decide whether or not this has been amplified by grief, which would be forgivable, but the uncertainty leaves the possibility that she’s spending this much time in a fantasy world of her own because its her nature and it makes her seem too young. Her love of photography and desire to pursue that as a career are hinted from the very beginning, but as she starts to confront the fact that the English degree at the prestigious school she’d planned to complete with Jenna isn’t truly what she wants to do, I honestly expected her to pursue writing. It might have felt too neat and tidy to have her path cross with an author and then have her turn into an aspiring author, but that imagination of hers that possibly makes her seem too young could paint compelling new fantasy worlds that leap off the page… and she’s still drifting toward professional photography. This felt like she’s completely oblivious to her greatest strength, which she might very well be, but I wanted her to take creative writing classes and start building a world to rival (or compliment) Nolan’s.
I very much appreciate how unapologetically anxiety, panic attacks and dissociation are described and used in this book, and how the characters help each other ground and get through it. I hope this book will make a lot of teens and young adults suffering from mood disorders feel seen and understood, and that this will help to normalize mental health struggles and care.
This book is a strong 4, maybe 4.5 out of 5 stars, and I would recommend it to anyone who’s ready for a story that will shatter their heart into pieces and then slowly put it back together again in the best way.
Cross-posted same day from westveilpublishing.com