Goodreads: All That It Ever Meant
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: ARC from Publisher
Expected Publication: January 3, 2023
Mati’s family is reeling from the death of Mati’s mother. Her Baba has drawn into himself, her sister Chichi is rebelling, and her young brother Tana is desperate for love and normalcy.
When Chichi pulls her worst stunt yet, Baba uproots the family from their home in England for an extended camping holiday in their native Zimbabwe. Along for the trip is Meticais, a fabulously attired gender-neutral spirit—or ghost? or imaginary friend?—who only Mati can see and converse with.
Guided by Meticais’s enigmatic advice and wisdom, Mati must come to terms with her grief and with the difficulty of living between two cultures, while the family must learn to forge their way in a world without their monumental mother.
Full of captivating characters and stunning plot twists, All That It Ever Meant delivers a nuanced and unforgettable story of grief, love, and family.
I will be the first to admit that this genre is not quite the right fit for me. In general, even when I can tell that a book is sensitively written and that it is trying to convey deep thoughts, I do not enjoy reading a story that centers primarily around a person processing grief. I do not mind a character-driven story, well told, but this particular type–the sad protagonist telling their story because only by confronting what happened can they move on–is not my favorite, even though I know it is an important type of story and likely resonates with many readers. So I would recommend this one to the readers who like what I have heard called “sad girl stories,” or stories that are told non-linearly because the journey is considered more important than the destination..
In All It Ever Meant, the first person narrator Mati takes a roundabout route to explain the aftermath of her mother’s death and what it means for her family. Readers are supposed to be hooked because Mati does not come straight out and say what happened, but instead leaves tantalizing clues about fights that happened, notes that were left, etc. before moving on to a different part of the timeline. An unknown presence, a gender-neutral spirit or ghost or something called Metacais, is also meant to add to the drama. Who are they? Where did they come from? Why are they there? Is it bad to say I did not really care who Metacais is? I thought they were largely unnecessary to what the book in general is doing with Mati’s processing of grief, and they really did just seem like one of those things an author adds to put a spin on a common enough story or theme.
For me, the highlights were Mati’s observations of Zimbabwe. For most of the story, Mati declines to talk about herself directly or to acknowledge her role in her family and their drama. But readers can piece together some aspects of Mati’s personality from her observations about other people, as well as her thoughts on visiting Zimbabwe. Mati does discuss the feeling of not always fitting in, her family caught between Zimbabwe and England. But she clearly loves Zimbabwe! Or, at least many parts of it. And it feels like an honor to go on a trip through the country with her and her family, seeing it through her eyes.
Blessing Musariri can also turn a phrase, and, through Mati, gives some observations about love, life, family, identity, and grief that I think many readers–especially teen readers–will find powerful and resonant. Not everything Mati says is as profound as I think she thinks it is–but she does periodically really find a way to describe something in a way that will make readers pick it up and look at it anew. I imagine this book will speak to many readers in particular who are in the process of figuring out who they are and what they want from life.
This particular genre and story is again, not really for me. I did not find myself gripped by Mati’s evasive storytelling. And I was unimpressed by the final reveal of what had really happened because, well, it is not that original! But the narrative voice is original and seeing the world through Mati’s eyes is compelling. Pick this one up if you like books that explore grief after the death of a loved one.
2 thoughts on “All That It Ever Meant by Blessing Musariri (ARC Review)”
I have read few books with this theme and it can be hit or miss for me. But I always enjoy setting in this kind of books. Great review!
Yeah, maybe I need to be in the right kind of mood? Like… I’d also need to be feeling sad? I don’t know! But it is always fun to travel to a new place in a book!
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