Saturday, September 6, 2014

Can't Look Away - Donna Cooner

Can't Look Away book cover
Can't Look Away by Donna Cooner
Publisher: Point
Publication Date: August 26, 2014
Source/Format: Book Blogger Meet and Drink 2014 || ARC
[I received this book for review from the publisher. This in no way affects the thoughts expressed in my review.]

Torrey Grey is famous. At least, on the internet. Thousands of people watch her popular videos on fashion and beauty. But when Torrey's sister is killed in an accident -- maybe because of Torrey and her videos -- Torrey's perfect world implodes.

Now, strangers online are bashing Torrey. And at her new school, she doesn't know who to trust. Is queen bee Blair only being sweet because of Torrey's internet infamy? What about Raylene, who is decidedly unpopular, but seems accepts Torrey for who she is? And then there's Luis, with his brooding dark eyes, whose family runs the local funeral home. Torrey finds herself drawn to Luis, and his fascinating stories about El dio de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.

As the Day of the Dead draws near, Torrey will have to really look at her own feelings about death, and life, and everything in between. Can she learn to mourn her sister out of the public eye? (from Goodreads)

Can’t Look Away surprised me, and in a pleasant way. I started it because I was interested in seeing how Torrey’s vlogger life would come into play after she lost her little sister. I finished it feeling pretty satisfied, and challenged to ask myself a few questions about blogging/vlogging alike.

Main character Torrey is very real, which means there were things about her I liked, and things that I felt were less likable. She’s done things that are silly and selfish, things that made me sad or angry. But it’s authentic to her struggle as a young teen to figure herself out, to figure out what she wants/believes/needs. Cooner managed to capture Torrey’s life in a way that felt natural, and also readable. Plus, Torrey is a vlogger, which will be discussed a bit more shortly.

There were also a sprinkling of great secondary characters, but three in particular stood out: her younger sister Miranda, her classmate and crush Luis and her cousin Raylene. Miranda, though she’s died, comes alive so wonderfully in Torrey’s memories. In fact, Cooner really shows readers the kind of up and down relationship that sisters can have. Luis and Raylene, though they could have been developed a bit more, were both offbeat and unexpected personalities that helped Torrey in the midst of her grief.

Speaking of grief, it almost feels like it should be a character in Can’t Look Away. If you’ve been reading this blog for some time, I always mention how I find it utterly fascinating to see how authors depict their characters handling grief. There are a variety of responses, and Cooner uses a few in this novel. Torrey’s dad tries to throw himself back into the monotony of daily life, while her mother was openly depressed and inactive. Torrey, on the other hand, manages to keep her grief mostly to herself, even as she occasionally toys with the idea of allowing it free reign on her vlog channel. There’s no right, wrong or even standard response to grief, as everyone goes about it their own way; I love that Cooner showcased that.

But really, what makes Can’t Look Away really memorable for me is the way vlogging is a part of Torrey’s story. Vlogging is something Torrey does because she enjoys it, and she’s gained quite a following. After the tragedy of losing her sister, and in such a public way, she was under a lot of scrutiny. Her followers were in different camps, some being supportive and others turning into haters. 

It was pretty interesting to observe what would happen to someone as popular as Torrey in the face of such tragedy. It really got me thinking about what you choose to put out there online, how much you share with followers (who feel like friends) and how much you decide to keep to yourself. Personally, I can’t imagine not having this online life at all (since I love all of you and love what I do), but I also know that I have limits on what I choose to share.

I do feel like there were a couple of things that could have used further development. However, it’s a novel that touches on grief, and how internet life affects real life, and that made for an interesting mix. All in all, Can’t Look Away is a solid read.

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