March 7, 2012

Built By Secrets • Pieces of Us

Pieces of Us book cover
Pieces of Us by Margie Gelbwasser
Publisher: Flux Books
Publication Date: March 8, 2012
Source/Format: Netgalley (Thanks!) || e-galley
[I received this from the publisher. This in no way affects my review.]

Every summer, hidden away in a lakeside community in upstate New York, four teens leave behind their old identities…and escape from their everyday lives. Yet back in Philadelphia during the school year, Alex cannot suppress his anger at his father (who killed himself), his mother (whom he blames for it), and the girls who give it up too easily. His younger brother, Kyle, is angry too—at his abusive brother, and at their mother who doesn’t seem to care. Meanwhile, in suburban New Jersey, Katie plays the role of Miss Perfect while trying to forget the nightmare that changed her life. But Julie, her younger sister, sees Katie only as everything she’s not. And their mother will never let Julie forget it. 

Up at the lake, they can be anything, anyone. Free. But then Katie’s secret gets out, forcing each of them to face reality—before it tears them to pieces.

While I was reading, I found that Pieces of Us struck an unexpected chord with me. Though many of the things in the novel are things I've never personally experienced, the reason why I actually devoured this novel is simply because I found that I could understand the difficulty of dealing with self-presentation, values and conflicting situations as a teenager - and this novel showcased much of that sort of thing.

The Characters

The novel revolves around four people, all of whom have known each other for years: Katie, her younger sister Julie, Alex and his younger brother Kyle.

Katie is presented to the reader as the typical golden girl. Her physical beauty, sparkling popularity and hot boyfriend are the things she's entitled to, especially in her mother's opinion. Of course, Katie doesn't know any better and takes that life for what it is. We start to see a crack in her veneer as things in her life spiral out of control - all finding root in one single moment in her life. What she has to endure and live with is definitely insane, and I felt for her as she found herself helpless, scared and having to figure things out on her own. She could have asked for help, but I think it was pride in her appearance and reputation that made that difficult for her to do.

Alex, on the other hand, was an enigma. I really didn't like him all that much, especially considering his problematic tendencies. I could see the root of his behavior in his personal history, but I don't think it can be considered an excuse for the kind of person he is. It's especially sad to witness this dual personality, as there happens to be a part of his personality that was easy to like and love in the novel.

Julie is Katie's younger sister, forced to constantly live in Katie's shadow (especially in the eyes of their mother). I really liked her in the first half of the novel because she was smart, witty and strong, though her weakness was attempting to please her mom. When she began to change and as she began to explore the world of dating and relationships and sex, I slowly started to feel like she was becoming a stranger. The transformation she underwent was crazy, but I felt it was done realistically - and the end result saddened me a great deal.

Kyle is the one character I enjoyed reading about from beginning to end because, in many ways (except for the demons he has to recover from), he reminds me of myself. He's quiet, self-contained and uncertain of himself. He is afraid to enjoy the good things if only because, in his experience, they often get ruined for him in the end. His way of referring to himself threw me for a loop at first, but I think it was a great tool to demonstrate his detachment from his life because of what he had to face. I was very pleased that he came out a lot stronger in the end.

The Story

The mere fact that it is a singular incident that affects all of the character's lives is a play on the concept of tossing a stone into a still pond and causing the "ripple effect". This moment happened early on in the novel, but the whole story revolves around what happens afterwards. It speaks greatly about how our actions, whether in our control or not, affects us and everyone around us.

The characters were distinguished really well. I would have thought that utilizing four different points of view would be confusing, but Margie Gelbwasser managed to write each voice distinctly so that it was easy for me to tell the narrators apart.

I never found the story to be confusing, even though there were intertwining plot lines and experiences. I could see how it was all connected, yet separate, and I empathized greatly with the situations each individual faced. The stuff they had to deal with - relationships, abuse, family issues and sex - all of those things are delicate topics and difficult to handle. This novel painted, for me, an interesting portrait of what it may be like for people going through similar circumstances.

Though it didn't wrap up with a happy ending, neatly tied in a bow, I think the way it was left was more realistic. It definitely made everything seem a lot more real to me, and I could appreciate that.

Personally, I say you should...

... read Pieces of Us if you're into contemporary YA that deals with difficult issues. Sex and abuse are primary focuses of this novel, and while I thought it was well-done, the reader should be aware of that before choosing to try this novel. It was a book that provoked me into contemplation - and I enjoy that sort of thing every now and again.


  1. Alexa, this book sounds SO good! I love contemporary YA, and especially books that deal with deep, hard issues. I can't remember if we have this on Netgalley or not. I'm going to go check because I really, really want to read this now. :)

  2. Oh gosh, I saw a little mini review of Pieces of Us a few days ago, and yours was much more in depth. It sounds so intense, and just really pretty sad. I'm definitely curious about the big event that impacted all four stories. Thanks for such a thorough review!

  3. I love intense contemporary novels and I have been hearing good things about this one. Great review!

  4. Great review Alexa. This is not the first write-up I've seen of this book, but it is the first I've seen that put a positive spin on it. I don't often read contemps, but somehow you've managed to make me curious about this one ! ;)

  5. I have this book to read also, and I'm gearing myself up for it. Sometimes I need a little push to read contemps that are serious issue books. I've heard some good things about this book and some, well, not BAD but I've read some reviews where people said it wasn't easy to read or that it bummed them out. But I'm still curious about it, and your review is only making me more so!

  6. It really isn't all that easy to read. It's difficult to read, but I did feel like I was invested enough in the characters and curious enough about the situation to keep reading till the end.

  7. I'm glad that I sparked your curiosity! It's a hard book to read, but it is pretty well-written.

  8. It is incredibly sad and incredibly intense. It was hard for me to read it, but I did find myself invested in the story.

  9. I hope you get it and that you're able to read it! I'm not sure what you'll think of it, but I do hope you find that you're invested in these characters and their stories.


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