Sunday, October 4, 2009

Book Review: The Day I Killed James by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Title: The Day I Killed James

Author: Catherine Ryan Hyde

Pages: 212


IT WASN'T SUPPOSED to end up like this. But it did.

When Theresa brings James to a party as her date, it's just for the night . . . and he knows that. But when everything goes horribly wrong, James drives his motorcycle off a cliff—and Theresa knows she's responsible for his death.
Theresa tries to run away from the pain, becoming a new young woman with a whole new life. She meets people, of course, but she never really makes connections—she's too scared she'll hurt them, too. But what Theresa discovers is that you can try to run away from the pain—but you can never really run away from yourself. The only way out is through.

This compelling tale of love and loss is about broken hearts—and how to begin to repair your own.

I've been feeling pretty guilty lately. I'm currently reading this big honking book (Cleopatra's Daughter) and, while it's good, it's taking me forever to read it. So I've been trying to keep this blog active with little memes and tidbits, but there doesn't seem to be nearly enough reviews. So, I thought I'd dig out an old favorite and try to write up a few words for it, to keep this blog about actual books.

The book begins seventeen days after "The Day"--the day protagonist Theresa mistakingly caused the death of her 4+ older neighbor, James. Obvious to everyone, even her, is James' unparraleled love for her. Unable to return the feelings, and minding her boyfriend Randy, Theresa generally tries to avoid him. But when she finds out Randy has been seeing another girl, Theresa uses James affection to her advantage; she brings him to a party, hoping Randy will see them together. Though she knows using James is wrong, she reasons that he "wants to be used". Only when her and Randy reconcile at said party, she doesn't expect James to catch them--or ride his motorcycle off a cliff. Haunted by guilt, Theresa decides to run away. The transition moves the reader from her first-person therapy-appointed journal entries to a third person narrative. She shaves her head, gets a job, and makes a promise never to hurt anyone again.

The thing about The Day I Killed James is that it is so ridiculously believable. Not so much by the dialogue, the characters, or the setting--it's more the scenerio, and the subtle yet in-your-face lesson that's not entirely original, but still horrendously underused: Don't mess with someone's heart.

Corny? Perhaps. But, even if your the type to completly brush aside life lessons, the format in which this particular one is instilled kind of leaves you with an under-the-surface anxiety that sticks to the back of your brain like glue. Even the most notorious of cynics (*hello* right here) won't forget it.

Lessons aside, The Day I Killed James is just a well-written book. Catherine Ryan Hyde has an effortless, minimilistic style that really does make writing look easy. It's pretty complicated, but in a way the reader can't really notice until they put the book down and think about it. The characters have a way of making you not only pity them, but empathize with them. Not to say everyone has caused the suicide of a bipolar neighbor boy, but I'm sure everyone has done something to someone they care about that left them rotting with guilt? Unless your a completly soulless monster (in which case, please direct yourself to the nearest prison cell and surrender), it's likely.

Though the titular James has few scenes of his own, his presense is heartbreakingly apparent through Theresa's sporatic journal entries and thrid-person perspectives. She has taken to a detached lifestyle, refusing to be anything more then moderatley pleasent to those around her for fear of crushing them as well. If this were any other author, this book would be 200 pages longer and ten times more annoying, but Hyde knows when enough is enough and removes anything that isn't essential to the overall spirit of the novel. I remember reading it and, being the critic that I am, spending at least half and hour flipping through pages, trying to find something amiss: a stupid line, a chatty monologue, an irritating character--but everything was simply flawless.

As for "disclaimers"--there are references to child neglect/abuse/drinking/smoking/etc. Could be seen as bleak, but there is a pretty sweet resolution that I'm sure will leave the reader satisfied enough to look past it.

Rating: 10 out of 10

Also: I highly suggest Hyde's other novel, Pay if Forward, which was turned into a movie starring Haley Joel Osmond, Kevin Spacey and that chick from Mad About You:


robin_titan said...

Great review! This book sounds so amazing I hope I get to read it soon.

I had no idea it was the same author from Pay it Forward. That movie was so sad! I really need to read the book, which I got recently.


Dannie said...

I know! I was crying...

B.A.M. Book Reviews said...

I saw Pay It Forward, it is very cute. I didnt know there was a book...I might have to check that out.


Alyssa Kirk @ Teens Read and Write said...

I loved that movie so much I'll have to check out this book!

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