Lizzie Cohen’s sister Tess is dead, and has been dead for a number of years. That’s kind of a callous way to start off this review of Without Tess by Marcella Pixley, but I have to put that out there, since it’s pretty much what drives Without Tess. You see, Tess was a bat shit insane 11 year old and truly believed she was: a Pegasus, a selkie, and a wolf. Yeah, I know. Eventually those fantasies lead to Tess’s death and consequently mess Lizzie up.
Lizzie actually wears all black and a choke chain. As I read Without Tess, I felt for Lizzie, but at the same time I was thinking who in their right mind wears a choke chain dog collar that isn’t a dog. Anyways, Lizzie’s grief is heavy and palpable in Without Tess. Much of the book pivots around her visits to Dr. Kaplan where she explores pages from Tess’s battered Pegasus journal and revisits old memories. We see, in this quiet read, how Lizzie fights guilt and self blame from Tess’s death despite knowing how nutty Tess was.
You guys, reading about Tess made me SO uncomfortable. Like, I know it’s wrong and bad but I am totally terrified of people who mutter to themselves on the bus and street. Tess would take her games and delusions a little too far and was SO mean to Lizzie. I wanted to tell Lizzie that it is never brilliant to follow the orders of a delusional person. I thought that Marcella Pixley nailed the sibling hero worship perfectly. She does a fantastic job of showing how the death of a child can affect parents and a marriage as well, but this was more in the background.
Without Tess by Marcella Pixley is absolutely not an easy book. But it’s a powerful and worthy book about the toll of living in a fantasy world. It accurately portrays how grief can affect a person very deeply and does mess a person up. Grief is shown not to be a two week process, but one that can take years. I think fans of serious contemporary will appreciate Without Tess and Lizzie’s healing process.
Disclosure: Received for review