The basics: "The story of two girls and the wild year that will cost one her life, and define the other’s for decades."
My thoughts: Marlena consumed me as I read it. It opens in the present day, where we meet Cat. This glimpse into the present felt brief, but I soon realized the real action of this novel is in the past. Initially, I found myself hungering to return to the present, which is at least partly do to my fascination with knowing how things end because figuring out how characters move from the past to the present (or future) fascinates me. But as this novel went on, I found myself much less invested in present Cat, which surprised me.
Buntin is a gifted writer, and she made me love reading about teenage angst in a way I haven't enjoyed in years. She made me prefer a teen storyline to an adult storyline. At times, she even made me remember my teen years with fondness, "Everyone has a secret life. But when you're a girl with a best friend, you think your secret life is something you can share."
Favorite passage: "The truth is both a vast wilderness and the tiniest space you can imagine. It's between me and her, what I saw and what she saw and how I see it now and how she no now."
The verdict: Buntin is at her best writing about the past, and that rightly constitutes most of this novel. While I enjoyed seeing where Cat was, it didn't feel as authentic. I wish Buntin would have delved more into the present or left it out, as it muddied an otherwise extraordinary narrative. As much as I liked Marlena, this novel made me fall in love with Julie Buntin as a writer, and I can't wait to see where she goes next.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 288 pages
Publication date: April 4, 2017
Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Marlena from Amazon (Kindle edition.)
Want more? Read this beautiful essay, "On Making Things Up: Some True Stories About Writing My Novel." Visit Julie Buntin's website and follow her on Twitter.
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