Without Tess Marcella Pixley Book Review

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.

Without Tess, Marcella Pixley, Book Cover, White lily,

Without Tess

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

Other reviews of Without Tess by Marcella Pixley:

Frenetic Reader
Book’d Out
Novel Thoughts

Purchase Without Tess here.*Clicking the link will take you to Amazon where I am an affiliate. This means that a portion of the proceeds of any purchase you make on Amazon after clicking the link will benefit Good Books & Good Wine at NO EXTRA COST TO YOU. Now, that is totally awesome.

About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.


  1. I read and reviewed this book a couple of months ago and agree, it was SUCH an uncomfortable read. Part of me wanted to punch Tess and the other part of me wanted to punch Lizzie. Also, what I found uber impressive was the author incurred this strong emotions out of moi in such few pages. #impressive

  2. Oh man, I just finished Jellicoe Road, and I think I am spent on books that have the possibility of emotional eviscerating me for the time being. However, I think your review just put it on my list for when I am ready for one!

    How bad is the public muttering? Is it “Oh, don’t mind me – I talk to myself sometimes – haha!” or is she two steps away from being a Jerry Garcia look-a-like sleeping on a cardboarad mattress?

    Anywho – great review. I hadn’t heard about this one before and you’ve put it on my bookdar.

  3. Wow, this book sounds really intense! I feel like it may be a difficult one to get through, but worth it in the end. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention!


  4. I haven’t read this book yet but I’ve wanted to for awhile. I knew it would be heavy and sad, but it sounds even more upsetting and depressing than I thought it would be! I guess I’ll need to be in a mood to get through it, which I hope to do soon (the sacrifices we make for books, right?) because it seems like an important angle of the grief process that doesn’t rear its head very often in YA. Great review!

  5. This book sounds so fascinating! Seriously. It sounds sad but amazing, and it still makes me happy that you read it and thought it sounded like an Ashley book 🙂

  6. I’ve heard this is a beautifully written book but it sounds a little too far on the disturbing side for me.

  7. I have this, but I haven’t heard much about it. Now I’m very curious! I think I will have to pick it up.

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