Sunday, May 27, 2012

Waiting by Carol Lynch Williams

No one talks to me.
They don't even look my way.
There's a death bubble around me and I know it. It's
a thin film, one that only I can see through, and I have
proof no one can see me, because they never look in
my direction
and I refuse to look in theirs.
London Castle's family is trying to cope with the tragic death of her older brother Zach. Her mother won't speak to her and spends her time in her bedroom alone, on her knees weeping. But even worse, London's mother won't speak to her and blames her for what happened to Zach. Her father is seemingly oblivious as to what is going on between the mother and daughter. He is always absent, working too much. London states that "At home, all life has stopped, even though it's been awhile." It seems London has been left to cope on her own with her feelings of guilt and loss.

Seventeen year old Taylor Curtis was London's boyfriend before he broke up with her and started a short-lived relationship with another girl. He was also Zach's best friend. He begins to renew his friendship with London. However, London finds it difficult to restart their relationship because so many memories of Zach are tied to Taylor. But Taylor offers London the support and caring she so desperately needs and she grasps at it.

Meanwhile despite London's numbness and difficulty in dealing with her brother's death, she does notice a new boy in class, Jesse Fulton, who turns out to be the brother of Lili whose been trying to befriend her. London likes Jesse, who she finds cute. Lili and Jesse become and important part of London's life and she forms a strong friendship with both of them and they too help her come to terms with Zach's death.


Through Williams evocative combination of prose and poetry, we learn the awful circumstances behind Zach's death. Having gotten his girlfriend Rachel pregnant, the two were planning to marry. But both sets of parents step in and the young couple are separated. Rachel is taken miles away by her parents and pressured to get an abortion. In a huge fight, Zach's mother calls Rachel  a whore and he also learns that she will be aborting his baby. Devastated and without hope, Zach hangs himself in his bedroom. London hears Zach dying and her and her mother race against time to save him. At the end of the book we learn what really happens with Rachel, and this makes his death all the more tragic.

As London struggles to deal with her mother's silence and anger, she uses her relationships with both Taylor and Jesse to help her feel alive and to find the strength to confront her mother. London finally confronts her guilt and realizes that she did the best she could. She is not responsible for Zach's death. The living must go on living.

Waiting tells the intense, tragic story of a family broken apart by the needless death of a young man. The suspense of not knowing the circumstances behind Zach's death and learning halfway through the book that he might have been a suicide, effectively draws the reader in. The end of the book, although somewhat predictable because the author does drop a hint,  leaves the reader is hopeful, but deeply saddened.

Waiting succeeds because it evokes powerful emotions; empathy for London who is being punished by her shattered mother for something she had no part in and because her mother is crushed by guilt for provoking Zach; sympathy for the young couple who are betrayed by the very people who had a duty to help them in such a crisis but who instead were more concerned about saving face; pity and anger for a mother so wracked by guilt over provoking her son that she can no longer love anyone; sadness for Zach who saw no hope in his future and who made a terrible mistake.

Maybe nothing could have saved Zach.
Maybe things were too messed up before he ever met
Rachel. Maybe he was too sad since we were little.
Maybe he had faith in everyone but himself.
Or maybe he just made a mistake and realized moments too late.

It also touches albeit obliquely, on the abortion issue and how it relates to men. Zach's suicide is directly related to the belief that Rachel will abort his baby. This leaves Zach in despair and the terrible fight with his mother provokes him into making a terrible choice. Often forgotten in the abortion debate, are the fathers who suffer unacknowledged from loss, betrayal and guilt.
Waiting also explores the role of faith in personal tragedy. London's father, who is a missionary, has told her that "God answers our prayers through Jesus Christ". But, long before Zach's death though, London was beginning to doubt.
Daddy doesn't know. Mom doesn't know. But on those
trips, I think I started wondering about a god that would 
let all this bad stuff happen. All of it is so awful. I was
changing. Stretching from my old religious skin. Feeling
itchy with the worrying and the cracking free.
London is in so much pain that she wants to die but she knows she cannot do this because she will cause her parents even more grief. She also feels that if she were to try something now, Jesus would not stop her. She's the daughter of a missionary, and "a missionary's kid can't kill herself". London feels God has abandoned her and her family.

But near the end of the book, London comes to the realization that she cannot live without God.

Waiting is a superb novel with lessons that many parents, especially Christian parents need to learn. Some of us will face a crisis with a daughter or son and we need to be there for them and with them. We need to use our wisdom and our life's experience to help them through the difficult times. Young people will make mistakes. We need to support them as they learn the hard lessons of life.
This is a novel that touches on many themes: redemption, loss, guilt, friendship, faith and family.
A brilliant book, highly recommended, especially to reluctant readers, and those who have experienced a loss through suicide.
Book Details:
Waiting by Carol Lynch Williams
New York: Simon & Schuster Children's  2012
335 pp.

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