Goodreads: The Beauty That Remains
Source: City Book Review
Published: March 6, 2018
Sasha, Logan and Autumn used to be bound by their love of music and one special local band, Unraveling Lovely. Now UL is broken up, and all three teens are dealing with recent deaths and their separate griefs. They soon find, however, that music can still move them and grief doesn’t need to be borne alone.
I don’t read a lot of contemporary YA, so these books are often hit-or-miss for me. I’m also not much of an “issues book” person, so reading a novel focused almost entirely on grief was a risk. I was drawn in by the beautiful cover, however, and the promise that music would play a large role. (That sounds fun and uplifting, right?) My first impression upon finishing was “That wasn’t nearly as bad as I was expecting.” Further reflection, however, revealed that I actually liked many parts of the book, almost against my own self-destructive assumption that I probably wouldn’t.
There are a few nit-picky things about the book that bothered me:
- None of the band names seemed that great to me, including the focus of the book, “Unraveling Lovely.”
- The music featured/referenced was basically all made-up local bands and their songs, which made it harder to relate to or get invested in.
- For some reason people at this high school didn’t know someone at their school had died in a car crash. Those things are BIG NEWS at most schools, with assemblies, memorials, offered counseling, etc.
- The author was probably actually sincere, but sometimes the book just seemed trying a little too hard with the “therapy is good” and “we all deal with grief in different ways” messages. I like the message, but it could have been more subtle and less like a public service announcement.
However, none of these things are big enough to say that the book as a whole isn’t good. In fact, I think the book is rather good. There are other places where I could almost see the seams of the book, the places where I imagine Woodfolk sitting down and thinking “I will now make this character have a character arc by doing x and y.” However, that’s a sign of thoughtful writing, if not flawless writing, and it’s something most authors tend to iron out as they continue writing, so I think Woodfolk’s future looks very bright.
And, on the whole, I did think the book had great, complex characterization. This is a book where I realize I don’t need to “relate to” or “approve of” or always even “like” the characters to appreciate them as characters. I mean, a good third of the book is premised on people being cut to the core by the death of a guy who cheated on them (yes, cheated on multiple people, who are ALL sad about losing his love). I don’t get it, but I’m sure it happens.
Ultimately, whatever failings the characters in the book may have, part of the point is that these things do not define them. People are complicated, multi-faceted. We all have flaws, but we also have good parts—and it’s possible for us to pick ourselves up and move on after both our own failings and after external tragedies. I kind of wanted the book to work in the title “The Beauty That Remains” into some profound statement about all of this because I think it would have been perfect and not actually heavy-handed, but it never did. The point was made a bit more subtly.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. I admit I don’t think it’s going to be one of my favorites of the year, but it was different and thoughtful, and I had a good time going on different journeys with the large cast of characters.
Content Note: We’ve been talking on the blog recently about whether YA is maturing, so for people looking for recs for teens, I would say this book is probably for older teens. It features sex, drugs, alcohol abuse, suicide, and a leaked sex tape—which people in the high school seem to think is kind of no big deal.