“Some pain is good pain.”
So says Lux, who by hiding from pain, finds even more pain along the way. This is one of those really good books with incredibly hard subject matter. It had me saying ‘I’m not crying, you’re crying’ so much.
Let’s start at the beginning. We join this book as Lena, a 20-year-old photography student in Florida, is in a darkroom preparing prints. She receives news that her father has had a heart attack, and has to travel back home to Michigan. Lena has avoided going home in general for a few years, we are told, but she packs up and heads home to take care of her father. She goes straight to the hospital to be with her father and find out just how bad the diagnosis is. Her dad has already had multiple heart attacks over the past couple of years, treatment options have failed and have run out, and the doctors say he is in the final stages of congestive heart failure. Having no other options, Lena says she will be the caretaker for her parent.
Lux is the 17-year-old younger sister with a severe avoidance complex when it comes to dealing with dying parents. Outwardly she is fun, exciting, bold, brazen, charismatic, beautiful, and yet to her family she is flighty and wild and unreliable at best. Lux’s coping strategies are incredibly harmful emotionally and physically. The author does not glorify her behavior as she dallies into drinking, drugs, boys–but it is told in such a real, natural manner of speaking that you can see all of the dangers she is headed towards if you’ve had any friends or family in similar situations.
I love that this book sheds light on mental health and the dangers and manifestations it can have on physical well-being. I love that it has two sisters that have criticized each other so fiercely, categorized each other the way only sisters can, but yet that sibling bond is still there, shining brightly in the gray, harsh days–giving them a chance to find a way back to each other if only they will hear each other out. I love that Lena, who was trying to stay as far away from home as possible, will drop everything to be there for her family. And I love that Lux represents a type of person that we easily dismiss as flighty or selfish or wild or aloof, when really they are doing their best to conceal anguish.
Kyla’s writing is well-crafted, poignant, and rings very true for her Lux and Lena. These sister are incredibly real and relatable. There were a couple of paragraphs here and there which were a little “tell” instead of “show”. They took me out of the story, but only for a moment before I was entrenched in it again. I’ll be interested to see what her next novel may be.
Who We Are Instead by Kyla Stone was released on February 15, 2017 by Paper Moon Press.
Note: Thank you to Paper Moon Press and NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Book blurb from Goodreads:
When her father has a massive heart attack, 20-year-old photography major Lena McKenna leaves college to provide hospice care for him after her rebellious younger sister, Lux, disappears. At home in her basement darkroom, Lena develops old family photographs, increasingly haunted by the memories of her mother, an intensely unhappy woman who committed suicide eight years before.
Meanwhile, 17-year-old Lux, always wild and reckless, descends into desperate self-destruction. She can’t face the guilt eating away at her. She’ll do anything to escape it. Anything. Drugs, alcohol, boys. It doesn’t matter, as long as she forgets the memories that won’t let her go.
When her car breaks down, Lena runs into Eli, a former classmate and popular jock. While he’s as cocky as ever, he’s also full of surprises—including a two-year-old daughter he’s raising as a single father. In spite of herself, Lena falls hard for this newer, kinder version of Eli. But how can she believe in love when everything’s falling apart around her?
As their father’s condition worsens, old memories rise to the surface. Lux’s out-of-control behavior leaves a trail of devastation in her wake. Lena must make a choice. Escape her past and leave her sister behind, or turn and face the demons that may destroy them both.
Who We Are Instead explores the dynamics of familial responsibility, the volatile relationship between sisters—the memories that bind them together and the rivalries and resentments that tear them apart—and the way we blur the lines between loyalty and obligation, truth and deception, honor and betrayal.