Title: Phantom Limbs
Author: Paula Garner
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: September 13, 2016
Genres: General Fiction, Young Adult
Candlewick Press, September 2016
From the publisher—
How do you move on from an irreplaceable loss? In a poignant debut, a sixteen-year-old boy must learn to swim against an undercurrent of grief—or be swept away by it.
Otis and Meg were inseparable until her family abruptly moved away after the terrible accident that left Otis’s little brother dead and both of their families changed forever. Since then, it’s been three years of radio silence, during which time Otis has become the unlikely protégé of eighteen-year-old Dara—part drill sergeant, part friend—who’s hell-bent on transforming Otis into the Olympic swimmer she can no longer be. But when Otis learns that Meg is coming back to town, he must face some difficult truths about the girl he’s never forgotten and the brother he’s never stopped grieving. As it becomes achingly clear that he and Meg are not the same people they were, Otis must decide what to hold on to and what to leave behind. Quietly affecting, this compulsively readable debut novel captures all the confusion, heartbreak, and fragile hope of three teens struggling to accept profound absences in their lives.
I read a lot of young adult fiction but much more of the action-oriented type—science fiction, mystery, thriller, horror, etc.—than general fiction or the angsty high school drama kind. I don’t mean to be the least bit disparaging about that last one; I just don’t have a better term for it. Anyway, my point is that Phantom Limbs isn’t my usual cuppa tea….and, yet, I was interested.
Now, I happen to believe there’s at least a slight thread of mystery in nearly all fiction, even if it’s just the mystery of why people do what they do. That’s certainly the case here and there are other mysteries such as what really happened to that little boy years ago and why did Meg’s family leave town, almost run away?
Three characters share center stage and, while the relationship between Otis and Meg is important, especially in whether they can, or should, try to resurrect it, it’s Dara who grabbed my attention and held it. At turns caring, dictatorial, abrasive, encouraging, Dara has every reason to resent what’s happened to her but she chose to use her skills in the best way possible by training someone else to be a champion swimmer. Does Otis appreciate it? Maybe not as much as she would hope and, now, Meg is distracting him even more.
This is a story of terrible loss that causes worlds to fall apart and the love that can make things just a little better. While Dara, Otis and Meg are frequently at serious odds, they also have much in common in their perhaps subconscious quests for happiness, and their journeys towards the future kept me reading into the night. Paula Garner has a lovely and effective way with words and I hope to read much more by her.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2016.
About the Author
Paula Garner spends most of her time making food, drinks, and narratives, despite being surrounded by an alarming TBR pile and a very bad cat. Her debut YA novel, Phantom Limbs, comes out from Candlewick in 2016. Paula is represented by Molly Jaffa of Folio Lit, and lives in the Chicago area with her family.
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