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May 2, 2011 / Chersti Nieveen

book review: The Way He Lived by Emily Wing Smith

Smith, Emily Wing. The Way He Lived. Flux; 2008.

Similar books: If I stay by Gayle Forman; Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher; BACK WHEN YOU WERE EASIER TO LOVE by Emily Wing Smith; Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver.

Synopsis and Snippet
When sixteen-year-old Joel Espen dies of dehydration on a Boy Scout hiking trip, it shakes the small town of Haven, Utah to its socially conformist foundation. And the six teens who were closest to Joel start to view their community–and themselves–in a new light.

With his uncanny sensitivity and boundless heart, Joel made people love him. Now that he’s gone, the ones he left behind are coping with their immense loss. His older, “crazy” sister pours her grief into a blog, while his younger sister runs away to New York. One friend is consumed by anger and revenge, while another discovers who she really is. Two learn to be true to their hearts–and all question who they are and what they’ve become.

I think Joel would want me to. I think Joel would say, “Tabs, tell them what happened. They need to know. But more importantly, you need to tell them.”

And I know why he would say that.

It’s because every time I think about how he died, I start to scream.

Not loud, blood-curdling screams. Almost more like oversized moans than screams. but every time I remember the policeman coming to the door or the reporters coming to the house or any bits of finding out that he was gone, I don’t start to cry. I start to yell.

Repeatedly.

The Review

The Way He Lived is more than a stunning debut — it is a story of love and loss told from six heartbreaking perspectives as each character deals with Joel’s death. Though in reality, none of the characters are really “dealing” with the situation at all. Emily Wing Smith’s writing is poignant and sincere, and touched a chord in me as the reader. I fell in love with each character and their personal struggle, and cheered when they discovered little insights about themselves.

For this story, the author builds on one of the old nursery rhymes: Monday’s child (see below). Each of the characters is modeled after a day of the week as they struggle through the grief of losing Joel. The voice of each character is different and fresh, capturing the true emotion of each of the six characters. I was amazed at how flawlessly they flowed into each other, and continued the story as a whole. Unlike the problems I’ve had with other books that have a multiple point of view, I felt every single character contributed to the story.

If the poem doesn’t give it away, this story also speculates on being a closeted gay in the Mormon culture. I felt that this was handled very appropriately through the speculation, and gives something to pause to think about.

Another reason why I loved this book is the high school debate — I was an avid debater in high school (policy was my main event, but I competed in everything else as well, except LD) and there are just NO BOOKS out there that really cover this topic. I know that the debate world is small and has such an intricate nature (and often times lingo) that it’s hard to cover. So almost every story/TV show it feels fake if there is a debater involved. They are usually the stereotypical debater: smart and loves to argue, which usually means future lawyer. But I love how Emily (a former debater herself) went beyond the stereotype to give us a real person. And for the first time, almost ever, I could tell what event the character did.

So if  you are looking for something that will make you think, cry, and marvel at the writing, I strongly suggest this book.

Look for my interview with Emily Wing Smith, coming on some Monday near you… or never, depending on when I can track Emily down long enough to answer a couple of questions.

Reader Age: I would give it a light PG-13 rating. There is minor swearing and heavy kissing scene.

Monday’s child is fair of face

Tuesday’s child is full of grace

Wednesday’s child is full of woe

Thursday’s child has far to go

Friday’s child is loving and giving

Saturday’s child must work hard for a living

But the child that’s born on the Sabbath day

Is fair and wise and good and gay

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10 Comments

  1. Sophia Richardson / May 2 2011 11:44 am

    Oh man, the blurb, the excerpt, and the poem that inspired the characters all combine to make me seriously need this book. Thanks for sharing, Chersti.
    – Sophia.

    • Chersti Nieveen / May 3 2011 7:56 am

      You are more than welcome, and I do hope you go and enjoy the wonderfulness that is Emily Wing Smith. And if you enjoy it, BACK WHEN YOU WERE EASIER TO LOVE has to the same beautiful tone.

  2. Casey Reads / May 2 2011 2:22 pm

    I really liked this book. I just saw that the another book came out by the author and I’m excited. Thanks!

    • Chersti Nieveen / May 3 2011 7:56 am

      BACK WHEN YOU WERE EASIER TO LOVE is just as amazing, and in many ways I almost liked it more. I just love romance, and that book had the perfect amount for me – and I guy I just adored.

  3. Julie Daines / May 2 2011 3:44 pm

    I read this book a while ago and really enjoyed it. Your review was wonderful.

    • Chersti Nieveen / May 3 2011 7:58 am

      Thanks, Julie! I just realized that I had left a glaring hole in the blog post, as I was still trying to track down Emily for an interview when this went up. *sigh* But hopefully I’ll get that interview, someday!

  4. Melissa / May 3 2011 7:09 am

    Great book and great review! I think I’ll have to go reread it now. It has such a beautiful flow that I really want to add to my own writing.

    • Chersti Nieveen / May 3 2011 7:58 am

      It is a great book, and one I’ll have to reread many times in my life.

  5. Liz / May 3 2011 7:11 am

    Wow, I liked that poem/nursery rhyme thing. It’s really cool that she creates her book around that idea. I usually have a hard time with books that follow more than one or two points of view. But after this review, I think I’ll have to go check it out. Thank you!

    • Chersti Nieveen / May 3 2011 7:59 am

      I actually had never heard the nursery rhyme before I’d read this book. And Emily does a great job at pulling it altogether without giving it attention. A lot of other books they really shove the comparison in your face. But this had a lot more depth to it.

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