Sunday, 10 August 2014

Are You Seeing Me? - Darren Groth

Are You Seeing Me?Are You Seeing Me? - Darren Groth
Grade: YA
Rating: 4.5/5 stars

This road trip will have earth-shattering consequences . . .

Twins Justine and Perry are about to embark on the road trip of a lifetime in the Pacific Northwest.

It's been a year since they watched their dad lose his battle with cancer. Now, at only nineteen, Justine is the sole carer for her disabled brother. But with Perry having been accepted into an assisted-living residence, their reliance on each other is set to shift. Before they go their separate ways, they're seeking to create the perfect memory.

For Perry, the trip is a glorious celebration of his favourite things: mythical sea monsters, Jackie Chan movies and the study of earthquakes.

For Justine, it's a chance to reconcile the decision to ‘free' her twin, to see who she is without her boyfriend, Marc – and to offer their mother the chance to atone for past wrongs.

But the instability that has shaped their lives will not subside, and the seismic event that Perry forewarned threatens to reduce their worlds to rubble . . .

~ * ~* ~

When I started this book I didn’t know much about it, other than that the main characters were twins - one with a brain condition - and that there was a review in the paper that recommended the story to Melina Marchetta fans. I was already sold. Throw around comparisons to my favourite Aussie YA author and I’m pretty much guaranteed to pick the book up. But even without that comparison, I would have loved this book. The powerful, emotional pull of siblings supporting each other through thick and thin, the fun adventure of exploring a new landscape, and the throw-backs to the past and the speculation of the future. This is what a contemporary YA novel is supposed to be – spot on writing and storytelling.

Are You See Me? is a story about the final adventure between two twins before epic changes fall on their lives. A trip to find a mystical creature, visit the grave site of Bruce Lee and the discovery heroes in unlikely places. It is a journey of discovering who has you back, always; and finding out who you are on your own too.

I have this thing about Twin novels. I seem to be reading a few of them lately. I don’t know if it’s a new trend, or I just haven’t noticed them in the past, but they keep popping up on my radar and I feel a weird connection to them before opening because of my own twin status. It was harder to relate to this twin pairing though, because I have no brothers! The whole male-female concept is a tad foreign to me. But I loved this pairing.

Justine and Perry are 19 year old twins who have faced upheavals and struggles their entire lives, with one constant: each other. No matter what life has thrown their way, they help each other stand strong. This alone would have made me love them, but add in the fact that this is their last trip together before more life changing events and it makes every scene seem more precious. Perry has a brain condition, a disability that makes him anxious and upset around new people and situations. But don't let that sway any of your thoughts, because this teenage boy proves to be more capable, caring and selfless than any other character in this book. The way Groth captures his abilities and feelings is incredible and makes you want to jump through the pages and give him big hugs (although, make sure you ask first, because a random hug from a stranger might make Perry upset!)

I love books about siblings – there’s something fantastic about knowing you have someone to count on, and when an author portrays that to a T, I find myself loving the book more than I thought possible. Are You Seeing Me? is that sort of book. One of the main themes throughout this book was the love that can be found through your sibling. Justine tries so hard to make this trip a final fun journey for Perry before he moves into a care facility – something she doesn’t want him to do, but he chose this change for their lives – because she wants him to have a lasting memory of their time together. While on the flip side, Perry is trying just as hard to show Justine that she can be free of his extra trouble making – even though he really doesn’t want to leave her, he just wants to show her she doesn’t need to be tied to him, and if it means moving into a home away from Justine, he’ll do it. Because he loves her.

As a reader, we get to see both sides of this through the split POV sections of the book. For me, this made me think of a cross between Jennifer Brown’s Perfect Escape (with the road-trip-with-the-OCD-brother) and Marcus Sedgwick’s She Is Not Invisible (with the blind-girl-showing-she’s-not-an-invalid). But this was better, because we you got see both sides right there, not just the ‘normal’ or ‘disabled’ side alone. I loved being in both Justine and Perry’s minds. And as a bonus, we get a look at their childhood struggles and successes through sporadic journal entries from their late father. (Warning: these will make you cry!)

I think my only issue with this book was with Leonie – Justine and Perry’s mother. A mother who was fed up with not getting any attention from her loving husband – who was being the best dad to his twins – a mother who up and left when Perry and Justine were four; a mother who reached out only to her daughter, 12 years later, and who struggled to accept Perry’s challenges. This issue was not so much with how her character was presented, because it worked for the story; but oh how she frustrated me, wanting back into their lives after ditching them without contact for years and years. Perry and Justine are way more forgiving than I would have been. Maybe it’s because I have such fantastic parents though, I can’t understand that need for them to come back into my life since my own parents haven’t left; but I thought she was a real piece of work.

Are You Seeing Me? is an incredibly emotional read, and a powerful look at struggling siblings showing just how strong they are alone – but also how they’re even stronger knowing they’ve always got each other.

4.5/5 stars

(Also posted on Goodreads)