“You love someone and they leave, but they never entirely go away. You feel them there, acutely, like an amputated limb.” —Paula Garner
On September 17, 2016, I had the opportunity to attend a free book launch for Phantom Limbs by Paula Garner. While there, the author described her book by saying, “really it’s about grief.”
How accurate that is.
The story begins about 3.5 years after the death of Otis’s younger brother Mason. While the reader does not know all of the details, the effects of the death are ingrained in Otis’s life.
Otis is a high school swimmer who is pretty good at what he does. His friend Dara has high ambitions for him and creates a rigorous training plan for him in order to launch him to Olympic-level swimming. However, this is not something that Otis necessarily wants but rather perhaps a dead dream of Dara for herself whose swimming career was hampered by the loss of her arm.
Very early into the story, Meg is also introduced. She was best friends with Otis when Mason died, and at that point in time, they were beginning to explore a romantic relationship. After Mason’s death, Meg and her family move away. Now, Meg is coming back for 3 weeks, and Otis must deal with what this means.
What follows is a beautiful tale that admits that grief never ends. It is there always, an undercurrent to the rest of your life. While there may be days where things may seem to be perfect again or close to perfect, there is ultimately always this missing piece. Sometimes, the pain comes back sharply like the pain some amputees feel from the limb that is no longer there.
18 months ago, I watched my 10 week old nephew die in the PICU at a hospital. It was a completely unexpected and traumatic event. I spent many nights unable to sleep, replaying the events of that day and the week prior. While his death was due to a previously undetected brain tumor, I still felt guilt over his death. I still do in some ways. Often times in fiction books—both with young adult books and adult fiction books, grief seems to have an end point. It seems to come to a point where everything looks bright, shiny, and beautiful again by the end with time.
This book, however, is different. We see how Otis, Meg, and Dara all continue to be impacted by traumatic losses in their past. We see how easy it can be to play the “if only” game to try change the past because the present seems so tainted. For anyone dealing with grief, especially traumatic grief, this book is a painfully beautiful gift. It acknowledges that grief doesn’t always end, but it is also hopeful that the present can still be lived.
Additionally, Garner includes therapists and support groups for grief in this book. While this is something that is written only at a mention, the very fact that both are mentioned and that various characters go to these is ALWAYS a huge deal to include in fiction, especially young adult fiction.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars