I started reading Kathleen Glasgow’s YA novel How to Make Friends with the Dark at school last week…and then all hell broke loose. On Friday March 13 (how appropriate, eh?) the government of New Brunswick closed all schools in the province for a two week period (minimum) in an effort to slow down the spread of Covid-19. So, that’s me, home for at least two weeks. These are weird times, people.
Luckily, I have enough unread books in my house to last a least five years and so I am going to to look at social-distancing as a gift of time. If nothing else, reading will distract me from this new world. I am a naturally optimistic person and I hope that when we come out on the other side we will be kinder to each other, and gentler to the planet.
How to Make Friends with the Dark is the story of fifteen-year-old Grace “Tiger” Tolliver. She lives with her single mother, June, a kind but ineffective parent.
We’re what my mom likes to call “a well-oiled, good-looking, and good-smelling machine.” But I need the other half of my machine to beep and whir at me, and do all that other stuff moms are supposed to do. If I don’t have her, I don’t have anything.
On the day Tiger and Kai, a boy from school, finally kiss (something Tiger has been dreaming about for a long time), the unthinkable happens: Tiger’s mother dies. (Not a spoiler, the blurb tells you as much.) The aftermath of her mom’s death, and Tiger’s grief is what Glasgow’s very affecting book is about.
You feel skinned. Like whatever held you together has been peeled away. You half expect to look down and see your heart hanging out, a slow-beating, nearly dead thing.
Your legs wobble and your mouth tastes dry and your mother is dead.
Because Tiger has no other family member available to take her, she is placed into the foster system (which is shocking given that her best friend’s parents are willing to look after her, but rules.) Her first foster placement is not great; her second placement is better.
The book traces Tiger’s journey down into the dark sinkhole of grief. There is very little light down there and Glasgow doesn’t shy away from the ugly places grief sometimes takes us. If you think you’re in for an unremittingly grim read, you’re not totally wrong, but there is some light in the darkness. Tiger is a sympathetic character and anyone who has ever lost someone dear to them will recognize her struggles, her small victories and her grief.