The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

Stop all the clocks... (review: I Heart You, You Haunt Me by Lisa Schroeder)

I Heart You, You Haunt Me
Lisa Schroeder
Simon Pulse

Girl meets boy.
Girl loses boy.
Girl gets boy back...
...sort of.

Ava can't see him or touch him, unless she's dreaming. She can't hear his voice, except for the faint whispers in her mind. Most would think she's crazy, but she knows he's here.

Jackson. The boy Ava thought she'd spend the rest of her life with. He's back from the dead, as proof that love truly knows no bounds.

(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I was initially wary of this title, as I had never read a novel written entirely in free verse before. I love poetry, but couldn't imagine a whole book being written this way that would successfully keep me turning the pages. I think that the answer to this riddle is that I Heart You, You Haunt Me is not a novel – perhaps a novella at most – and not much happens. This is not a criticism – it works beautifully and I read it in one sitting,  each section leading me gently on to the next. We first come across Ava at the funeral of her boyfriend Jackson. Over the course of the book, we discover how he died and why Ava feels so responsible. We also discover that he is haunting her. Yet this is not a thriller, a mystery or a ghost story. It is a story about love, grief, letting go and moving on.

The free verse style perfectly encapsulates that stop-motion nature of overwhelming grief, where you expect the world to stop because they have stopped. Everything goes on around you while you are left in a jerky, suspended animation trying to find footing where there is no longer solid ground. When grieving, I doubt that many people's thought processes remain rational or cohesive and the shorter sentence structure and less rigid storytelling ethic permissible in free verse allows Ava's sadness to feel exceptionally real.

My only real issue was the fact that we occasionally have the spectral Jackson chip in his side of conversations with Ava. I wonder if the story would have been better served were Jackson's ghost to have remained illusory, leaving us to decide whether he merely existed in Ava's head as a symbol of what she had lost. However, that is purely personal speculation and does not detract from what is an almost perfectly formed narrative. High points for me were the few short scenes between Ava and her parents – I found myself extremely moved by their exchanges. In these scenes I found that I was not just placing myself Ava's shoes and sharing her grief but was also able to identify with her mother as she watched Ava go through a pain that she was unable to heal.

I would certainly recommend this as a quick and thought provoking study on loss, and also as an interesting experiment in writing. I will certainly pick up further work by Lisa Schroeder and have added a couple of free-verse stories to my wish list for future reading.


Lauren said…
Beautifully written review. I had a really similar experience with this one, and I was pleasantly surprised by the impact such a short verse-novel could have on me. You've made me want to read it all over again.
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