Lainey Pike can tell you everything you need to know about the people in her family just by letting you know how they died. Her reckless stepfather drove his motorcycle off the highway and caused the biggest traffic jam in years. Her long-suffering grandmother lived through cancer and a heart attack before finally succumbing to a stroke. And Lainey's mother#151;well, Laine...moreLainey Pike can tell you everything you need to know about the people in her family just by letting you know how they died. Her reckless stepfather drove his motorcycle off the highway and caused the biggest traffic jam in years. Her long-suffering grandmother lived through cancer and a heart attack before finally succumbing to a stroke. And Lainey's mother, well, Lainey's mother hanged herself in the basement just days after Lainey's high school graduation. Now Lainey's five-year-old brother is an orphan and her estranged older sister is moving back home to be his guardian. Meanwhile, Lainey's boyfriend is thinking about having a family of their own, and her best friends are always asking the wrong sorts of questions and giving advice Lainey doesn't want to hear. As she tries to pull away from everything familiar, Lainey meets an intriguing new guy who, through a series of Slurpees, burgers, and snowballs, helps her to make peace with a parent she never understood.
The Snowball Effect is the best type of offbeat, in that it's quirky but not off-the-walls insane. Its emphasis on characters over plot makes for an occasionally repetitive and disconnected story line, but I don't consider that a huge complaint considering the fact that the characters are all pretty awesome. Whether it's Lainey's unnaturally loud little brother, her simultaneously creepy and intriguing Slurpee boy, her slightly naive but determined sister, each character had something that made them stand out. Occasionally it seemed they were only their quirks, but more often than not, Lainey was able to describe them in a way that made them seem sympathetic and vital to keeping the novel fun to read.
Character-driven novels tend to rely on their narrators more than anyone else, and I thought Lainey carried this book rather well. She's funny but not in-your-face hysterical, smart enough to know often what's she doing (at least in terms of her family) but not enough to never make mistakes, and straightforward but not without a complex personality. She's occasionally infuriating because of the way she treated some of her old friends, but in light of all her hardships, her behavior at least makes sense. I enjoyed seeing her react and move past all the tragedies, because despite her sometimes restrained attitude, she really does have a lot of feelings and plenty to say about the many deaths in her family.
A few lapses in characterization and excitement aside, I really enjoyed The Snowball Effect for its amusing cast and unique, emotional take on the "dead relative" story.
Book details: HarperTeen/Hardcover/$16.99