When everything you love is in danger, how long can you keep running to survive?
Life can be brutal
Winter in Idaho. The sky is dark. It is cold enough to crack bones.
Jack knew it
Jack Dahl has nothing left. Except his younger brother, Matty, who he’d die for. Their mother is gone, and their funds are quickly dwindling, Jack needs to make a choice: lose his brother to foster care, or find the drug money that sent his father to prison.
So did I
Ava lives in isolation, a life of silence. For seventeen years her father, a merciless man, has controlled her fate. He has taught her to love no one.
Did I feel the flutter of wings when Jack and I met? Did I sense the coming tornado?
But now Ava wants to break the rules – to let Jack in and open her heart. Then she discovers that Jack and her father are stalking the same money, and suddenly Ava is faced with a terrible choice: remain silent or speak out and help the brothers survive.
Looking back, I think I did . . .
Perfect for fans of Patrick Ness, Meg Rosoff and Daniel Woodrell, What Beauty There Is an unforgettable debut novel that is as compulsive as it is beautiful, and unflinchingly explores the power of determination, survival and love.
Huge thanks to The Write Reads, Penguin and the author for my spot on the blog tour, and for providing me with a beautiful proof copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
I’m going to get straight to the point: What Beauty There Is is something special. This book had me hooked from the opening pages, from the first lines, in fact, and I was in thrall to the exquisite prose and heart-breaking story until the very end. I didn’t know what to expect from this book – I certainly wasn’t prepared for such a powerful, emotional reading experience.
There are clear influences here from literary giants such as Cormac McCarthy – and as I read, in my head, I affectionately called it No Country for Young Kids (the naming of the antagonist after the actor who plays Anton Chigurh in the Coen Brothers film is surely no coincidence). The Coen Brothers’ film Fargo is also called to mind by the stark, snowy setting and the delightful banter between the amiable cops. But this is no pastiche – this is homage paid and knowingly referenced by a writer who is aware that she is working within a tradition but expanding it and utilising it to focus on next generation and the awful price they pay for their parents’ crimes. In that sense, it also reminded me of David Joy’s brilliant novel Where All Light Tends To Go, which I read a couple of years ago, in which the young protagonist struggles to escape the cycle of poverty and crime and drug abuse that seems laid out for him as an inevitable path.
What is so incredibly special about this book is that while it wears its influences openly and proudly, it also manages to be startlingly unique. Anderson’s writing is what I call ‘crystalline’ prose – each phrase seems hewn from glittering rock or ice, beautifully carved, sparkling like sun on snow. I adore her writing, especially Ava’s first person narrative, which drifts gently to the head of each chapter, settling on top of Jack’s third person story, gilding it with beautiful, poetic words. Ava is a mesmerising, enigmatic character – both the heart and the head of the narrative, and I know I’ll be thinking about her for a very long time. Her transformation and the opening of her heart is beautiful to witness: delicately heroic, she carries the story.
The relationship between Jack and Matty is beautifully drawn, too. There is so much hope, I think, in the love the brothers show each other, despite the traumas of their upbringing and the horror of their current situation. There is much that is bleak in this book, but the bond between Jack and Matty is absolutely a thing of beauty. Their story is so tense, so wrenching – it is impossible not to be totally caught up in it. If I was being super pernickity, I might be able to pick out one or two points where the drama goes a tiny bit too far, or the co-incidences stack up a bit too neatly, but I don’t want to pull this novel apart – it’s a bit like how I felt about Where The Crawdads Sing – yes, maybe, possibly, there are one or two tiny signs of it being a debut novel, but I DON’T CARE! The emotional resonance of this novel overwhelms any urge I might have to turn ‘literary critic’ with this book; I love it fiercely, and it means a great deal to me, and that is such a thrill and a privilege as a reader.
I am by no means an expert on YA fiction – I don’t read nearly as much of it as many of my blogging friends, not for any particular reason, and quite possibly to my detriment as a reader – but if it can in some ways be seen as a transition, I can imagine a reader (not too young – there is a lot of violence and some pretty graphic descriptions, especially of Jack’s wounds) discovering Cory Anderson’s writing and then, in time, moving on to McCarthy’s The Road, to Denis Johnson, to Donald Ray Pollock – to writers who, like Anderson, explore the clash between violence and beauty, who sculpt gorgeous shapes out of the harsh realities of our brutal world, and show us the core of humanity. I for one am extremely grateful to have had the chance to discover this outstanding writer, and I can’t wait to see what she produces in the future.
What Beauty There Is by Cory Anderson is published in the UK by Penguin on the 8th April and is available to purchase here.
About the Author
Cory Anderson is a winner of the League of Utah Writers Young Adult Novel Award and Grand Prize in the Storymakers Conference First Chapter Contest. She lives in Utah with her family. What Beauty There Is is her debut novel.
Author website: https://coryanderson.us/