Published by Delacorte Press on March 6th 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Ashley Woodfolk’s The Beauty That Remains is one of the most moving books I’ve read in a long time. It is a story about love and loss and how overwhelming the grieving process can be. In some ways because of its subject matter, it was a difficult book to read. I felt my heart absolutely breaking for the characters in this book over and over again because their grief was so palpable. At the same time, however, I thought it was a beautiful read with an important message about how we all grieve in our own way and in our own time, and I thought Woodfolk did a beautiful job of exploring that as she takes us through the grieving process of three teenagers who have lost someone close to them.
The book follows Autumn whose best friend Tavia recently died in a car accident, Shay who is dealing with the loss of her twin sister Sasha to leukemia, and Logan, whose ex-boyfriend Bram has committed suicide. As soon as we meet each of them, it becomes clear that they are really struggling to cope with the loss of their loved ones. Autumn spends more time at Tavia’s home than she does her own now and also sends emails to her dead friend’s Gmail account almost every day because she doesn’t feel like she can talk to anyone else about how lost she feels. Shay is struggling, not just because looking at her own face in the mirror every day is a constant reminder that she has lost the person closest to her in the whole world, but also because she just doesn’t feel like she knows how to live or where she fits in without Sasha by her side. She feels awkward around their mutual friends, and then there’s the music review blog she and Sasha ran together. Shay can barely imagine trying to move forward with that without Sasha, whose reviews were the heart and soul of the blog. Logan is not only mourning the loss of Bram who he’s pretty sure he was in love with, but he is also wracked with guilt because he and Bram had a huge fight and Logan said some awful things to him that he never got the chance to apologize for. Logan is barely hanging on and starts drinking to cope with his emotions.
As Autumn, Shay, and Logan withdraw from their friends and family and bottle up their emotions, we see firsthand just how messy and ugly grief can be. Woodfolk takes us deep into the psyche of these grieving teens and shows us exactly what they won’t share with those around them: all of those haunting ‘what ifs’ – what if we hadn’t fought, what if I hadn’t said those awful words, what if I had gone to the party with her, what if….
Powerful and authentic presentation. I think what I liked most about this book is the way Woodfolk presents three completely different journeys of grief and healing to show just how truly individual the grieving process is. Autumn, Shay, and Logan each experience their own unique array of emotions and develop their own mechanisms for coping with their loss. Some of the emotions and coping mechanisms are of course healthier than others, but what each of them goes through just feels so authentic. At times I felt like I was right there either grieving with them or wishing I could say something to take away their pain.
An emotionally devastating book that still manages to have a beautiful and positive message. Even though this book was at times emotionally draining just because its subject matter is so difficult and intense, I still thought it radiated such a positive message overall. Woodfolk shows us that no matter how dark a tunnel you find yourself in after losing a loved one, there is still light at the end of it. You just have to keep pushing through at your own pace until you get there. And you can’t do it alone. You need the love and support of the ones you keep pushing away. And of course you’ll always miss the person that you lost, but you can still heal and move forward. Your loved one would want that for you.
The healing power of music. Even though all of the teens in this book expressed their grief in different ways, they still had one thing in common on their journey to healing…music. Music in the form of a local rock band called Unraveling Lovely is the thread that connects these three individual journeys of grief. I’ve always found music to be cathartic and healing so I loved that it played such a central role in this book and helped these teens find their way through the darkness.
I had a couple of small issues with The Beauty That Remains but nothing so big that it took away from my enjoyment of the overall story.
Autumn has a budding romance with Dante, the brother of her deceased best friend, and I was torn about that. On the one hand, it was nice to see Autumn and Dante talk to each other about the loss of Tavia, especially since they weren’t really talking to anyone else about it. At the same time, however, every time their meetings took a romantic turn, the romance just felt out of place.
I also occasionally had trouble keeping all of the character’s names straight and kept mixing up who the survivors were and who the deceased were. I’d have to refresh my memory each time I picked the book up again. I think that was my own fault though because the book got to me so much emotionally. I happened to be reading The Beauty That Remains the same week that 17 students and faculty members lost their lives at a high school in Parkland, Florida. The book just hit me all the harder as I thought about what the students, parents, and administrators at the school must be going through and so I could only read a little at a time before I just needed to take a breather. I think if I been able to read it straight through without stopping so much, keeping the names straight wouldn’t have been an issue.
Through her characters and their experiences in The Beauty That Remains, Woodfolk gently reminds us all that there isn’t a right or a wrong way to grieve when you lose someone you love. We all grieve in different ways and some of us take longer to heal than others, but as long as we keep moving forward, eventually there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Music brought Autumn, Shay, and Logan together. Death wants to tear them apart.
Autumn always knew exactly who she was—a talented artist and a loyal friend. Shay was defined by two things: her bond with her twin sister, Sasha, and her love of music. And Logan always turned to writing love songs when his love life was a little less than perfect.
But when tragedy strikes each of them, somehow music is no longer enough. Now Logan can’t stop watching vlogs of his dead ex-boyfriend. Shay is a music blogger struggling to keep it together. And Autumn sends messages that she knows can never be answered.
Despite the odds, one band’s music will reunite them and prove that after grief, beauty thrives in the people left behind.