This doesn't happen to me very often, but I read The Catastrophic History of You & Me in one sitting. Four hours later, four hours which held a LOT of laughter and tears, I closed the book and sat there thinking on what I'd just read. I was in love with this book just from glimpsing the title, and I remember wondering on and off again what sort of story I was in for - was I going to love it, or hate it? Could it really be as good as I was hoping it would be, and would it be one of those books that makes me FEEL something, or would it leave me cold? The answer, I am delighted to say, is a resounding "I loved it." Debut author Jess Rothenberg brings all her considerable talent to the table, and with Catastrophic History, gives readers an emotional, poignant, and oddly hilarious tale of life - and love - after death.
I almost feel like there's no way to truly explain why I loved this book so much, but I'll try. I connected emotionally with the The Catastrophic History of You & Me, on so many levels. I think part of it was that everyone has experienced and can remember heart-break, and the struggle to grieve and move on. Brie isn't truly given this chance, considering she dies before she can even process the reason for her literal heart break. Brie is a wonderful narrator - the voice is perfectly spot on for a sixteen year old; never once did I feel like I was reading about someone younger or older. Brie brought humor and love to the pages of Catastrophic History. Watching Brie pass through the five stages of grief was frustrating, heart-wrenching, and intense, and thanks to Jess Rothenberg's ability to pull me in, I felt like I was right there with Brie, struggling to understand Jacob's betrayal, the changes in her family after her death, and her best friend's, Sadie's, secrets. Brie's journey was powerful, fraught with set-backs, and completely understandable and genuine.
Brie is a memorable character, but so are the secondary, supporting characters like Jacob (who believe it or not, is not as heartless as he seems), Sadie, Tess, Brie's family, including Jack, her adorable little brother, and Patrick, her guide through the after life. Patrick really stood out to me because he was so patient with Brie, for the most part, and I adored every minute of their interaction, from his annoying/cute cheese-themed nicknames for her, their bickering and flirting, and the moments when his true character shone through, and Jess Rothenberg quietly and elegantly showed that Patrick is a good soul with a big heart. I never would have expected to laugh so much reading a book with this subject matter, or to find a character to fall for, but both things happened, and regularly. I didn't expect to cry, either, yet I did so, on several occasions - sometimes out of sadness, sometimes out of happiness or healing, along with Brie.
The plot of Catastrophic History moved along nicely. The pacing never felt jumpy or anything other than perfect. Even the passage of time was just so well done, so seamless! There were a few moments when I felt a few certain aspects of the plot might have been a bit stronger, but even that did not take anything away from the book. I was not able to put this book down for longer than a few minutes at a time - it had that strong of a hold on me. And the moment when you see the title of the book come into play and you find out all about Brie's catastrophic history with a certain character... (That's the sound of me STILL swooning.) Jess Rothenberg soared toward the ending like Brie and Patrick zooming off the Golden Gate Bridge, and managed to surprise me, even at the end, with a beautifully crafted and cathartic finish.
If you are wondering if you should buy this, the answer is yes! I will definitely be splurging on a finished copy. I loved the ARC cover but I love the finished cover even more, and I do want to add this book to my collection. It's the type of emotional, lingering book I will read again, when my memory of it is a bit fuzzy, so it feels like the first read, again. It makes you think about your own life - who you are, if you're living a life you can be proud of, if you're loving with all that you have. The Catastrophic History of You & Me is a masterfully told story of love, redemption, friendship, grief, and life.