Parker spends his time in hotels, watching people and stealing from them. He hasn’t spoken in five years. That’s when he meets Zelda, a girl with silver hair and a wad of hundred dollar bills who just leaves her purse behind at the table. Parker takes her money but then realizes he has left his notebook behind, a place where he records his stories and also that he uses to communicate with others. When he goes back, Zelda is holding it. Soon the two of them are talking about life and death, a conversation where Zelda claims to be much older than Parker, and not by just a few years. Parker wants to save Zelda at the same time that Zelda wants Parker to not waste his life. The two together set off on a series of adventures that may just prove that life, no matter how long it is, is worth living well.
Told in the first person, the framework of this novel is that Parker is writing an essay to get into college. That structure alone speaks volumes throughout the novel even as readers are just getting to know Parker and Zelda, since Parker agrees to apply to colleges. The writing throughout is just as rich and thoughtfully done as that framework, allowing these two incredibly unique characters to come fully alive. The book asks deep questions and dances along dark lines, yet it is entirely a delight to read and keeps lightness even as it asks the most difficult of questions.
The two main characters are phenomenally written. Parker’s lack of speech becomes much more than a device, informing readers about his deep pain and the way in which he has truly shut himself off from life. Zelda too is complicated, she is playful and light and then by turns also filled with a resolve that life is not worth continuing. Parker’s short stories are also a source of amazement in this novel and Wallach has quite a way with them, offering even more insight into relationships in the novel. It is all so gorgeously done.
A rich, complicated and exceptional novel for teens, this book handles grief, suicide and questions of how to live your life in a wondrous way. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.