Gone Too Soon (2018) by Melody Carlson is a PHENOMENAL standalone Young Adult novel. This book comes in all forms including eBook, and is 195 pages in length. With a full-time job and a very lively six-year old at home, this book took me two days to read. I received a review copy of this novel in eBook form from the publisher, WhiteSpark Publishing. In no way has this influenced my review. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I give Gone Too Soon 5+++++ STARS. This book is a Christian Young Adult novel.
About the Book
An icy road. A car crash.
A family changed forever.
Hannah Josephson had always been the “perfect” daughter. Kiera couldn’t live up to her before, and she certainly can’t now that her older sister has died in a car accident. But the image she carried resentfully of Hannah is challenged when she finds her dead sister’s diary and begins to read. Apparently Hannah’s final year wasn’t as perfect as everyone thought.
Caught in a pattern of blaming each other, the Josephson family is falling apart. Their father has left, their mother is mixing opiates and alcohol, little sister Maddie has been shipped off to spend the whole summer with their grandmother, and Kiera feels utterly alone with her grief and anger. A summer job helping at a park in a poor section of town provides a friend and a purpose.
But it’s Hannah’s diary that fills her thoughts. For the first time in years, she feels close to the sister she’s lost. But can the knowledge she gleans about her possibly help her patch back together the family that seems determined to implode?
Right off the bat, I’m telling you that I do not have enough adequate words to describe just how good Gone Too Soon by Melody Carlson is. This book should be a MUST-READ for adults and teens alike. If you have ever dealt with, or are currently dealing with, a family that is so dysfunctional it’s imploding or exploding then this may be a book you will want to read. For me, the best part of this novel is its characters. They may be some of the best written characters I have ever read. What they go through and how they go through it all is SO realistic and SO human. I did feel I could relate to all of them. Gone Too Soon wrecked my heart as a mother, daughter, wife, and a teacher, but by the end it left me feeling hopeful. Many things are left unresolved by the end — again, very realistic — but I feel like things will probably work out for the hurting family in this story, and I’m OK with that.
Melody Carlson tackles BIG topics in this novel: the untimely death of a daughter, the grief and guilt associated with any death, the breaking apart of a marriage, drug and alcohol abuse, a suicide attempt, child neglect, the strife between a mother and a daughter she doesn’t understand, and the difference between the appearance of faith versus actual faith in God. Gone Too Soon is a heavy book. Having dealt with most all of these topics in my teenage and young adult years, I did have to take reading breaks to catch my breath. But, I’ve never been more happy to read a book. Gone Too Soon, for me, was an extremely cathartic, soul-searching read. If I could purchase a copy of this novel for all of my students, I would purchase today. And, when my six-year old is old enough (I would say 14 is a good age), she most definitely will be reading this book. Why? Because the way Carlson deals with these BIG topics is realistic, relatable, and responsible. The way this book altered some of my perspectives in a more positive manner makes me want so badly to share this with others who could benefit from a similar perspective change now in their young years before they set negative habits, thoughts, and feelings that are really hard to change when older.
The number one reason I would make teens read this book is for the fantastic discussion about guilt. We humans take on guilt like nothing else. We shackle ourselves within its clutches and wear it like a parka. We stew in it and become irrational about it. And, we get sick to our stomachs going over all the many ways we could have done something differently, which leads to even more guilt. Kiera, the main character, feels severe guilt over the death of her sister, Hannah. However, a perspective change will lead Kiera to at least ponder her role in her sister’s death, and start a walk down a more healthy path. An old woman in a hospital sees a worried Kiera (I won’t tell you why she’s there) and asks what she is worried about. Kiera, for some unknown reason, tells this old woman her feelings. The old woman listens attentively, and then kindly asks Kiera, “Are you God?” This throws Kiera for a loop. Of course Kiera is not God. What a crazy question. The old woman asks, “Then why do you feel guilty about something you couldn’t control?” This stops Kiera in her tracks, and I don’t mind telling you it stopped me in mine as well. This shifts Kiera’s perspective and makes her realize that she’s holding onto baggage that is not hers to hold on to. This reminds me of 1 Peter 5:7 which tells us to “cast all anxieties on [Jesus] because He cares” for us. We are NOT supposed to hold our feelings in. God is the BOSS. When He allows certain BIG things to happen to us, instead of feeling guilty, angry, and devastated and stubbornly holding those feelings within ourselves, we are called to give them to Him. When Kiera realizes she is taking on God’s job, and that she isn’t responsible for her sister’s death, she is able to begin true healing of her many hurts. No one ever gets over the death of a loved one, but we can heal a little from it by going to God. He wants to take the baggage from us, and He wants to comfort us. This is why I think my students need this book. If they could learn this lesson NOW at 16 imagine all the unnecessary hurt and grief they could save themselves from!
Gone Too Soon packs a punch. There are so many things going on in this book that I think a book club could discuss for weeks. In fact, I think this is a great book to read with more than one person so a real discussion can take place. While reading this book I did chuckle a little, cried quite a bit, felt really frustrated and angry at times, and really searched my soul on a couple of issues. This is one of those books that will stick with me for a long time. Gone Too Soon is an excellent novel that I highly recommend. Just make sure you have some tissue nearby — you’re probably going to need it.