An 8-year old girl, in a fit of bratty fury, wishes never to see her mother again. As ugly coincidence would have it, her mother dies in a car accident that very night, and changes this little girl forever.
The entire book speaks of the girl in the first person; so, no name is referenced to her. For that, I shall assume her name to be also that of the author’s : Alice.
After the tragedy, Alice, being the self-centered person that she is, begins an emotionally self-destructive life based on guilt over what she wished. She retreats inward, builds a wall against herself, and becomes the Ice Queen — emotionally frigid, out of touch with her feelings — quite a depressing character actually.
Indeed the book is dark and gives me a sense of constantly being right smack in a gloomy winter. But the book is beautiful and the writing, superb. Despite the sense of being enveloped in a cloudy gray, I needed to read and read ’til the end. I needed to know how Alice gets her redemption and if she ever does get it.
Back to the story…. Alice is struck by lightning and loses her ability to see the color red. This inability starts to give her a peek of how much she has lost out on life by taking a lot of things for granted.
Like a clam in its shell, she slowly opens herself to relationships with other people. She accepts her brother’s attempts to reach out to her, makes a new friend, hooks up with a fellow lightning survivor , Lazarus Jones, whose touch can scorch and whose breath can burn (literally). (Alice Hoffman has a tendency toward the surreal or the fantastical. But this is what makes her stories so interesting. )
She slowly thaws her own emotional prison and is redeemed by the final realization that life is precious, life is worth living, and people give meaning to life. Her guilt is overcome with the new sense of knowledge that her mother’s death was never her fault.
In the end, the book’s central message is summed up when Alice says, ” This is what I know, the one and only thing. The best way to die is while you’re living…”
Alice Hoffman has written a gem of a book. If you’ve never read her work, this would be a good first start.
My Mark : Excellent