Contemporary Young Adult
Available July 19th
Received for review
through Teen Book Scene
Pearl, aka Bean, is pretty used to how things are in her life. Her mother isn't really much of a mother at all, working late and coming home drunk only to get into an argument with her father over the poor decisions he feels she's making. At least Bean has Henry, her best friend and a young man that has family issues of his own.
When Bean's grandfather dies unexpectedly, her entire world changes. Not only does her mother not seem overly upset, but her mom's best friend Claire moves in and she can hear them laughing late at night when, for Bean, the grief and loss are almost more than she can bear.
Though Henry's mom Sally almost never leaves their house, she agrees to come to Bean's grandfather's funeral and ends up befriending both Bean's mom and Claire. This new friendship coupled with her grandfather's absence leads to some new family drama, and the shocking realization that things are not now, nor have they ever been, what they've seemed to Bean.
Quietly compelling, Pearl is one of those stories that gives us just a few frames in the moving picture of one particular character's life, pulling us into Bean's world quickly for a couple brief moments of conflict before we are released back into our own lives. While there is certainly drama, it never crosses the line into melodrama but rather remains engagingly intimate, as though we alone are the only ones that will share in the pain, the healing, and the growth Pearl experiences regardless of the number of people who will actually read this tale. For a short period of time we are her invisible confidantes, lending support when it's needed and wishing our fingers could fall through the pages to lace with hers as family history is brought to light in a softer way no less compelling for it's subdued delivery.
Pearl and Henry are characters to whom we instantly form a camaraderie, wanting and hoping to shield them from the difficulties of their lonely existence. Both have mothers who have temporarily forgotten what it means to raise a child, retreating so deeply into the trivialities of their own lives they leave no time for the inclusion of their flesh and blood. As we see them both through Pearl's eyes, we feel both anger and sadness, willing them to see how their smallest actions or inactions have the most profound effect on their children. For their part, Pearl and Henry take their mothers in stride, their familiarity with the detachment disheartening but the strength of their bond and the support system they've built with one another enough to bring a wistful smile to our faces.
The evolving relationships between all the characters are a pleasure to read, the passing of one person the catalyst for so many positive changes as new life is sparked from the literal ashes of death. The snippet of time we're given in Pearl is engaging, but it is a brief interlude that doesn't necessarily linger long in our memories once we've finished reading. It's a quick snapshot–we blink and it's over– and we find ourselves ready to move on without feeling the need to dwell on the events or replay them in our minds to make the experience last that little bit longer. Pearl is a fast, interesting read, just not one that will burn a hole on our shelves as a permanent brand to let us know it's there.