Sunday, April 26, 2015

Review: What Remains by Helene Dunbar

Title: What Remains
Author: Helene Dunbar
Publisher: Flux
Published Date: 8 May 2015
Buy: Amazon | The Book Depository

I received this title through NetGalley from Flux for review.

In less than a second...
... two of the things Cal Ryan cares most about--a promising baseball career and Lizzie, one of his best friends--are gone forever.

In the hours that follow...
...Cal's damaged heart is replaced. But his life will never be the same.

Everyone expects him to pick up the pieces and move on.

But Lizzie is gone, and all that remains for Cal is an overwhelming sense that her death was his fault. And a voice in his head that just...won't...stop.

Cal thought he and his friends could overcome any obstacle. But grief might be the one exception.

And that might take a lifetime to accept...
(summary from Goodreads)

What Remains is a sad and thoughtful novel, but one that ultimately feels incomplete. 

What Remains plays on your emotions. Right from the beginning you know where the story is headed, but you're still not prepared for it. Getting to know Cal, Lizzie and Spencer is fun and their bond is beautiful. It makes facing Lizzie's inevitable death all the more harder. Dunbar has crafted three interesting, unique, and well-rounded characters that are so different, and yet fit together in a way that is truly special. She portrays the kind of friendship anyone would hope for - one that is true, deep, and lasting. Even after death. The transplant aspect, especially the idea of cellular memories - that transplant recipients take on the memories, likes and dislikes, emotions, mannerisms, of their donors - make What Remains all the more interesting. This lies at the center of What Remains, and the turmoil Cal goes through trying to deal with his guilt, the trauma of the accident and transplant, and figuring out what's him and what's Lizzie is gut wrenching. You really feel for Cal the whole way through the novel. Dunbar has a way of describing his grief, his fears, his panic so that it feels real - has your heart pounding as if you yourself are suffering too. The romance between Cal and Ally offers a lighter tone that I enjoyed. There's a cuteness to their having liked each other all along but were both too afraid to speak to the other. Ally's understanding of what Cal's going through and her acceptance is beautiful too. Their relationship, as well as the solid friendship between Cal and Spencer, gives What Remains a real hope that is inspiring. 

The downside to What Remains is that I was unsatisfied with the ending. It felt incomplete and rushed to me. I liked where Cal was at emotionally. His relationship with Ally, his friendship with Spencer, the support he had from his parents, all felt solid. He'd come far to accept what had happened and that Lizzie was, for the most part, gone. I could've been happy with that ending. Yet it felt to me as if in the middle of the book Dunbar was building to more. Cal's sessions with his therapist seemed to be leading to revelations about his relationship with Lizzie - that it wasn't as perfect as he made out. That there was a darkness to it, what with the lengths Cal and Spencer were willing to go to keep Lizzie happy and safe. With everything Lizzie had gone through that made sense, but these tidbits had me honestly disliking Lizzie; thinking that she wasn't as true a friend to Cal as he was to her. But while Dunbar seemed to allude to this, it never developed further, as if she lost momentum with the storyline and so just ended it. I kept waiting for more to come from these revelations, and so when nothing did, I ended the novel feeling dissatisfied, without a true sense of closure. This is what has stuck with me. It's what I think of now when I think back to What Remains.

A story of friendship, What Remains is beautiful and emotional. The transplant aspect is thought-provoking and adds to the turmoil. However, I'm unable to get past the feeling that the last half of the story is rushed and incomplete. It just needed that little bit more.



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