September 11, 2012

Review + Giveaway: Wake by Adria Mattina

Format: ARC from the publisher
Excerpt here
Release Date: September 22, 2011
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble 

Eighteen isn’t too young to run your life into the ground, but it’s not too old to fix it, either. The desire for change drives Willa Kirk from St. John’s, Newfoundland back to hometown of Smiths Falls, Ontario, away from her mistakes and the place where her sister died. She’s looking for a place to settle and rebuild, but Jem Harper just wants to get out of town, back to the life he knew before cancer. By letting the tragedies in their lives define them, they are both dying a little more every day. Welcome to the wake. 


WAKE by Abria Mattina was a very realistic and emotional story about teens who are coping with the effects of cancer and all its glorious and sordid trappings. Jem Harper is in remission while Willa Kirk is still recovering from the death of her sister, Tessa. Both wanted a clean break but their presence in each other's lives digs up a lot of latent emotions that can go either way. What started as a very corrosive and snarky relationship turned into a touching and very sincere friendship between two unlikely people.

WAKE  is a long book at 725 pages filled with a lot of events colored by deep emotions and serious pondering so I'll do my best and be concise with things I want to share. Let's start with the length, I must say I was a little worried about this novel because I have a tendency to get really antsy about long reads plus I got busy over the weekend that I started reading WAKE late and I was so worried that I might not finish it in time. Well the story was heavy but it was a light read if that makes sense. The dialogue between Willa and Jem made it easier for me to get glued and AMattina did a good job in keeping things engaging. However I think she could chuck 200 pages, stick to the story's highlights and still end up with a real power house story riddled with complex emotions. There were a lot of soup making and milkshake sessions that we could do without.
No one likes to look at seriously ill people. It's awkward. It might be catching. It might happen to you some day, and that ruins the happy reality of your otherwise happy moment.
As for the story itself, I cheated and read several negative reviews because I already know that a book about cancer is going to be an emotional read but I want to know other people's thoughts about the story and how they responded to it. To set the right expectations WAKE is not a love story and I think (I might be wrong) AMattina didn't intend to romanticize the idea of dying and suffering or make a martyr out of her characters. Will and Jem's eventual romantic relationship was far from poetic and in fact it was ugly in the sense that death was always hanging over their heads and they are both haunted by things that happened in the past and things that might happen in the future. Instead I found WAKE to be a very honest and realistic portrayal of what goes through a family that experienced cancer up close and how they worked their way around it. Some people are graceful in handling the experience, some are awkward and some are down right callous about it. The people in Willa and Jem's lives represent those basic categories and it got gritty on a lot of occasions with lots of vomiting, anger and pity party sessions all throughout the book.

The characters were developed well. I read a review that complained about Willa Kirk extremely hung up over her sister's death. I'll assume that this person have never experience cancer up close and I wish she never does but coming from someone who has, Willa's grieving process was very normal. Seeing someone die slowly and painfully day by day before your eyes is not easy and to experience mortality in such an agonizing manner at 15 will surely break anybody down. It's either you bear it with dignity and strength or you go total apeshit and go dark because of the pain and loss. Willa helped her sister euthanize herself and though her reasons are noble, the manner and outcome is still debatable. Assisted suicide and euthanasia in any given situation is a very controversial issue and I give props to AMattina for adding that into the mix especially since her book is led by a bunch of teens. Surely gave me a lot to think about.
I was a person before, God damn it, not a fucking diagnosis! 
Jem Harper is the heart of the story. A boy in remission, he is constantly reminded of what he was and who he is. He is bald, emaciated, dark circles under his eyes, all the landmark signs of someone who has been gravely ill. Add high school to the mix and you have a melting pot of strong negative emotions aimed to break one's self confidence and develop serious trust issues. My heart went out to this kid, he is defensive and always has a snide remark ready because the last thing he wants is pity from someone, he has a lot of that for himself already, he doesn't need anybody else's. The most painful part for me to read as far as Jem's storyline is concerned was how his old friends treated him, the scenes were very awkward because they don't know how to deal with Jem's cancer, are they supposed to be careful or should they pretend like he's healthy like the rest of them? I think Jem doesn't know either, he doesn't want special treatment but he has limitations that hampers this as well.

AMattina touched on two major relationship dynamics in WAKE that of family and friendship. I adored Jem's sister Elise, she is an energizer bunny and a very good contrast to Jem's bitter attitude. She's peppy and optimistic, she loves Jem very much and though they fight a lot, she's the one who understands him the best aside from Willa. Willa and her family are a very good example of how cancer can ruin one. There's a lot of resentment amongst them not only because of Willa's role in her sister's suicide but also because of how Willa coped with Tessa's death and how her grief and guilt almost ruined her. The last thing her parents want is for her to be involved with a boy who might die and have her go into another cycle of depression and self-destruction.
How'd it feel to find out you had cancer?
Like a bomb went off in the middle of my life. It's enough to make your skin crawl, knowing there's something living inside you tan can kill you-- that is killing you.
WAKE is such a provocative story and AMattina didn't hold back in illustrating the limitless effects of cancer. She was fearless in presenting thoughts and ideas about euthanasia, sex, suicide and discrimination. She said things that we thought about but are afraid to say out loud which might make us readers feel uncomfortable in several parts. So if you're feeling a little brave and are in the mood to read a straight-forward story about life and living without exaggerations and the cued waterworks, pick up WAKE, the length is a little challenging but you'll hardly notice it once you start reading.

Courtesy of FMB Blog Tours
Win a Digital Copy of Wake by Abria Mattina.


  1. I'm not entering because I've read this, but I will share it around for ya :)

    Your review was absolutely FABULOUS. I loved this book, I thought it was amazing. I read it over one weekend until I literally couldn't see. I think that anyone who reads this book will ultimately be touched. I can't say enough good things about this story! I'm so glad you've read it!!

    1. That's what I felt yesterday Liz, I lived and breathed Wake the entire day because I was so scared I won't finish it in time for my tour stop. LOL I can't tell the other readers enough about Jem and Willa, they have to experience them and their pain themselves. It's so NOT romantic, it's just REAL.

      Thanks for stopping by Liz!

  2. I only read half of the your review as it has got spoilers. I will certainly read it as it sounds intriguing.

  3. I will not get spoiled, so I am being careful. But this sounds like a wonderful read. It seems like I will be crying for this one, I can tell LOL! Amazing post hon, thank you :)

  4. Looks like an awesome book and I can't wait to read it.

  5. Thanks for a great review! I've heard of this book and I'm definitely adding it to my wishlist :) Thanks for the giveaway!

  6. I glazed over some, because of the spoilers. I like the topic of the book, and since you loved it Braine, I've got to give it a read!

    - Jessica @ Book Sake

  7. This sounds like an awesome book! Hope I win so I can read it ;)

  8. Beautifully written review, the length of the book still scares me but it sounds like such a powerful, amazing read though I know I'll have a difficult time getting through this book. It sounds like a book that will be emotionally draining and while I do like reading books like that once in a while I don't think I'm prepared to read this. I'll definitely add it to my TBR though. Thanks for sharing. :)


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