Everything about fifteen-year-old Cat’s new town in rural Michigan is lonely and off-kilter, until she meets her neighbor, the manic, beautiful, pill-popping Marlena. Cat, inexperienced and desperate for connection, is quickly lured into Marlena’s orbit by little more than an arched eyebrow and a shake of white-blond hair. As the two girls turn the untamed landscape of their desolate small town into a kind of playground, Cat catalogues a litany of firsts—first drink, first cigarette, first kiss—while Marlena’s habits harden and calcify. Within the year, Marlena is dead, drowned in six inches of icy water in the woods nearby. Now, decades later, when a ghost from that pivotal year surfaces unexpectedly, Cat must try to forgive herself and move on, even as the memory of Marlena keeps her tangled in the past.
Marlena by Julie Buntin
Publication Date: April 4, 2017 by Henry Holt and Co.
Books that examine the relationships of teenage girls have always interested me despite being a bit removed now from adolescent experiences myself. Marlena stands out in particular because while Buntin focuses the majority of attention on teenage Cat, the reader also gets a view into the life of adult Cat as well and how her friendship with Marlena has left an indelible mark on her.
Marlena called me naive, but what I really think she meant is privileged, a world people use like an insult in New York, but that I’ve always taken to mean safe. Privilege is something to be aware of, to fight to see beyond, but ultimately to be grateful for. It’s like a bulletproof vest; it makes you harder to kill.
One of the aspects I enjoyed the most about Marlena is the narrative style. With Cat’s narration, we not only get the experience of reflecting on her friendship with Marlena, but we also get a better picture of who both of these two girls are. It makes the experience of reading the novel much more personal and emotional. I ultimately felt so connected to the book that despite knowing part of the outcome, the last chapter brought tears to my eyes – a surprisingly rare occurrence and a positive reflection on Buntin as a writer!
While I initially picked this book up because the storyline sounded right up my alley, I found myself drawn in even further because of Buntin’s beautiful prose. Marlena is all the more haunting because of Buntin’s writing style. Knowing that this is her debut, I am anxious to see what she writes next!