Thursday, 3 June 2010
Review: The Lighter Side of Life and Death by C. K. Kelly Martin
Publisher: Random House US
Released: May 25th, 2010
Grade rating: A
Sixteen-year-old Mason Rice is having the night of his life. He's just delivered an incredible performance in the school play, basked in celebratory afterglow vibes at the party of the year, and lost his virginity to one of his best friends—the gorgeous but previously unobtainable Kat Medina. His dreams are coming true, and the future looks golden.
Unfortunately, Kat sees things very differently. Crossing the friendship line was a big mistake, and all she wants is to forget it and move on, even if that means forgetting Mason altogether. What's a guy to do? Well, if you're Mason, you hang your hopes on the first attractive twenty-three-year-old you cross paths with. At first Mason wonders if he's imagining the chemistry... until Colette invites him over to her apartment. Suddenly Mason's living in a whole new world.
If there's one thing C. K. Kelly Martin can do better than almost anyone, it's write from the perspective of a normal teenage boy. She somehow manages to get inside their heads and portray them with realism and honesty, leaving no stone unturned and nothing to the imagination. Her debut novel, I Know It's Over, also used male narration, leaving me to think that that was as good as it got. Thanks to The Lighter Side of Life and Death, it got better.
From reading the summary, you're probably thinking this book is about a teenage boy's sordid affair with an older woman. You'd be right, of course, though there's nothing wrong or sleazy about their sudden exploration of each other. They truly do have feelings for one another, and mutually choose to embark on an adult relationship. There's an age gap, yes, but it's not an issue - it's not illegal, they're both responsible, and there's just something right about them being together.
Mason is the teenage boy in question. He's at that point in his life where sex is on the cards, and he has a thing for his best friend, Kat. After a night of drunken antics, they go further than ever before, leaving their friendship in tatters the day after. This alone would be a nightmare for any teenager, not to mention confusing and completely devastating. Crossing the line with a friend is like walking a tightrope: either it all goes to plan, or you fall. Hard.
Mason, in true realistic fashion, has no idea what's going on with Kat. She's hot and cold, throwing mixed signals his way and making his head swim. Sounds familiar? I'm sure there isn't a teenage boy in the world who hasn't had trouble figuring out girls - it's just a high school given. I've never read a more honest account of male thoughts and emotions, not to mention physical descriptions of sex itself. Martin will never pull the wool over your eyes - she tells it as it is. Sex is awkward, chaotic, and intimate, and that's exactly how it's portrayed in The Lighter Side of Life and Death. Young adults are treated like adults within the pages of this book, and it really shows a sense of understanding between author and reader.
Colette, the older object of Mason's affections, is also very well written. You get to see her side of things through Mason's eyes, though she's an enigma that is never fully explained. Her actions and attraction to Mason could be construed as simple lust or longing, but I think it goes deeper than that. Maybe she's looking for that connection to tether her to reality, or someone who will just appreciate her for who she is and what she stands for. Whatever her reasoning, she opens her eyes to a whole new experience, taking Mason along for the ride with her.
The Lighter Side of Life and Death is about maturing, making choices and taking life as it comes. It's an honest depiction of one boy's brush with the seemingly interchangeable love and lust, and a realistic look at the decisions made by people of all ages. I admire its raw honesty, and I think you will too.