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Everything about 15-year-old Cat's new town in rural Michigan is lonely and off-kilter until she meets her neighbor, the manic, beautiful, pill-popping Marlena. Cat, inexperienced and desperate for connection, is quickly lured into Marlena's orbit by little more than an arched eyebrow and a shake of white-blond hair. As the two girls turn the untamed landscape of their desolate small town into a kind of playground, Cat catalogues a litany of firsts - first drink, first cigarette, first kiss - while Marlena's habits harden and calcify. Within the year Marlena is dead, drowned in six inches of icy water in the woods nearby.
Now, decades later, when a ghost from that pivotal year surfaces unexpectedly, Cat must try to forgive herself and move on, even as the memory of Marlena keeps her tangled in the past.
Alive with an urgent, unshakable tenderness, Julie Buntin's Marlena is an unforgettable look at the people who shape us beyond reason and the ways it might be possible to pull oneself back from the brink.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Sudi on 06-06-17
A Brilliant, Agonizing Portrait of a Young Woman
When first listening, I thought I would not be able to relate to Buntin's characters because I am so far beyond (in years,) in trying too figure out my teen years and because Buntin's antagonist is much more into drugs than anyone I ever knew. That character would be Marlena, a vibrantly limned but frenetic young woman who befriends and is befriended by a new, younger, neighbor, Cat.
Marlena is on the road to destruction and because of recent family transformations in Cat's life, Cat is drawn into Marlena's orbit of uncentered living -- which has few boundaries but much potential for dissolution.
In short, this is a well written book (told from Cat's viewpoint,) about what it's like to grow into adulthood when your best friend is spiraling into oblivion... while you are simultaneously dealing with the trials which just about every teen girl confront's about self esteem, "coolness" and body image. Not to mention how to relate meaningfully to guys.
Buntin is a very skillful and talented writer. Cat becomes very real and her observations are fully fleshed out, three dimensional and bring all her relationships to life.
As far as being drawn into the book...It seems everyone has a "Marlena" of some sort in their maturing, early years. Someone who pushes boundaries and doesn't care about consequences but whose core of "self" is somehow either so protected and sealed away because of prior abuse that they never let you really "know" them -- or their real self has been damaged into emptiness and you never think you can know them for who they are.
But through your friendship, you grow to love them, despite feeling like they are always trapped beyond you, beneath glass or ice.
This is a well written portrait of two young women and it will grab you... I promise.
PS The narration by Emma Galvin is perfect.
39 of 40 people found this review helpful