Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Day I Killed James by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Have you ever blamed yourself for something you had no control over? Or punished yourself even though you've already been forgiven? This novel explores the guilt we place upon ourselves and the struggle to forgive the one who means the most.

James was in love with his next door neighbor Theresa but she didn't feel the same way about him. When her boyfriend takes another girl to a party they had both been invited to, she uses James' affections to get back at her boyfriend. When her plan succeeds and her boyfriend returns to her, a heartbroken James rides his motorcycle off a cliff, killing himself. Theresa, however, blames herself for his death because he wouldn't have died if she hadn't been so careless with his heart. Unable to cope with his death, she runs away and tried to re-invent herself, but he still haunts over her. She changes her name, becoming Annie Stewart (her middle name and James' last name). Then, she meets a young girl who struggles with a neglectful mother and turns to Theresa for help. One night, when Theresa was elsewhere and unable to protect her, the girl accidentally killed her brother, thinking he was breaking into their home. Theresa then realizes she couldn't keep running from her troubles and returns home. The girl shows up on her doorstep a few days later with no place else to go and the two work together to forgive their toughest critic - themselves.

This book has a great message but failed in the execution. It starts off very fragmented between Theresa's journal entries and sections of events leading up to James' death, although, based on the journal entries, he's already dead. It wasn't hard to follow, it was hard to get invested. Once you made it past the first part and she reinvented herself, the story became more interesting. At some points, though, you just wanted to smack Theresa and tell her to get over it. I think that's part of the guilt, though. No one else understands how she feels, so everyone thinks she's just being irrational. The girl she meets is a great addition because she's the anchor and dose of reality that Theresa needs. She helps her heal and, in the end, the road to recovery is almost complete.

This novel has a really strong message about forgiveness and realizing that there are bigger things at work in the universe besides ourselves. The story grows in strength, but you have to struggle past the first half to realize the power behind the story.

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