A Map of the Known World
By Lisa Ann Sandell
2009, Scholastic, 272 pages
Cora Bradley dreams of escape. Ever since her reckless older brother, Nate, died in a car crash, Cora has felt suffocated by her small town and high school. She seeks solace in drawing beautiful maps, envisioning herself in exotic locales. When Cora begins to fall for Damian, the handsome, brooding boy who was in the car with Nate the night he died, she uncovers her brother's secret artistic life and realizes she had more in common with him than she ever imagined. With stunning lyricism, Sandell weaves a tale of one girl's journey through the redemptive powers of art, friendship, and love.
— Amazon.com description
Oh, hello, Amazon.com description. You had me at the word "brooding."
I refuse to read books about death. There is nothing I hate more than getting really invested in a character only to have them die halfway through a book. I read to experience different things through the eyes of characters, but why would I want to put myself through that turmoil in my free time? That being said, if I can read a book description and know in advance that a character dies, or perhaps that the character died just before the plot of the book begins, then I can deal.
Which is exactly why I was able to love, love, love this book, which is, on the surface, all about death. Cora's big brother died suddenly in a car crash, and she's left to deal with entering high school as "the dead kid's little sister." She turns to drawing "maps of the known world" as an escape from her small town. But when she starts getting to know Damian, her brother's best friend, she realizes there's plenty of unknowns to uncover right at home and that it's okay to turn to others for help.
MAJOR plus side: In the end, this isn't a book all about death—it's about life and moving on. It's the type of contemporary realism + love story I've been wanting since I devoured all the Sarah Dessen stories ever written. Damian and Cora's romance is very nicely and subtly written, and Cora's introspections make for a thoughtful read.
Downsides: Well, OBVIOUSLY it's sad. But it's sooooo good, who cares?
Moral of the story: As Cora says in the book: "And maybe that's the trick to getting through it, through life: realizing that everybody, including ourselves, is lugging around some kind of screwed-up baggage. Maybe we are put here to help each other carry the loads."
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