Thursday, October 13, 2011

Without Tess by Marcella Pixley

Genre: YA Contemporary
Publication Date: October 11th 2011
Pages: 224
Book Source: Macmillon Children's & NetGalley

Synopsis: Tess and Lizzie are sisters, sisters as close as can be, who share a secret world filled with selkies, flying horses, and a girl who can transform into a wolf in the middle of the night. But when Lizzie is ready to grow up, Tess clings to their fantasies. As Tess sinks deeper and deeper into her delusions, she decides that she can’t live in the real world any longer and leaves Lizzie and her family forever. Now, years later, Lizzie is in high school and struggling to understand what happened to her sister. With the help of a school psychologist and Tess’s battered journal, Lizzie searches for a way to finally let Tess go.

If you're anything like me I'd recommend having a box of tissues close while reading Without Tess. Then again maybe I'm just soppy, I was crying long before I reached the really sad part, I cried at the 'toad scene' and I dont even like toads!

10 year old Lizzie adores her 11 year old sister Tess; the bond between the two is palpable, swinging wildly between idolisation, love, protectiveness and resentment as Tess' disturbing behaviour and cruelty impacts Lizzie emotionally and physically. Tess's fantasy world of imaginative gameplay descends into psychoses; convinced of her own immortality she's delusional and dangerous. Distressing to read of at any age but heartbreaking in a child.

Tess' poems scattered throughout the novel are quite beautiful, often disturbing and sometimes downright creepy but they're another vivid instrument for depicting Tess's mental instability.

My only question is why Tess' behaviour wasn't picked up earlier, acted upon, or taken more seriously ... by her parents or school teachers. This "oversight" didn't really make much sense to me; earlier intervention may have meant a different outcome??

"No," I say finally. "I don't believe in heaven. But I'll tell you what I know for sure. There definitely is such a thing as hell. And you know what? You don't even need to die to get there."

5 years on from Tess' death, Lizzie is scarred and defensive but with the help of school psychologist Kaplan, she's trying to come to terms with moving on without her sister. The relationship between Lizzie and Kaplan is portrayed with insight and sensitivity; revealing, painful, amusing and hopeful. The author writes with such emotional depth that I couldn't have been more involved in Lizzie's journey through Tess' Pegasus journal, her own childhood memories, illusions, guilt and grief.

For those of you thinking it's all despair and doom ... it isn't. Marcella Pixley's writing is perceptive & beautifully lyrical, there are splashes of sarcastic humour and the story isn't without hope. Without Tess is emotionally draining but so worth the tears.

Want to know more about Marcella Pixley? ~ check out her website


  1. This sounds like a really emotional book. I really am interested in this book and I hope that I can read it very soon. Great review.

  2. I think this one sounds fascinating. I think parents want to ignore those strange behaviors in their children with the hopes that it will just go away.

  3. Yes I think the "oversight" would bug the crap out of me. However, I could always use a good "teary" book. Thanks sweetie.

  4. The title alone made me want to grab Kleenex.....

    I read a book many years ago called After Anne. You would think the title would have given me heads up but no.... I distinctly remember crying like a baby on the couch at 2 in the morning so as not to make my husband....

  5. A YA book I want to pick up!

  6. I thought it very special also!

    Shelleyrae @ Book'd Out


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