on February 25, 2007
Cures for Heartbreak is about how 15-year-old Mia Pearlman copes with her mother's sudden death from melanoma, and her father's subsequent hospitalization for heart problems. Which might make you think that it's a sad or depressing book. But it isn't. Cures for Heartbreak is funny and compelling, with a heady mix of the philosophical and the absurd. Sure, it's about Mia's grief, and guilt, and the hole that her mother's absence leaves in her life. But it's also about her quest to fall in love, her father's unexpected means of coping, and her sister's escape into academia. It's about finding a best friend, wearing too much makeup, and eating vast quantities of junk food. The lighter aspects of the story provide leavening for the darker subjects.
Margo Rabb's writing is both eloquent and moving. She drops clever observations and brilliant turns of phrase like little gifts for the reader. But at the same time, she's not afraid to write about what really matters. You can tell, even without the explanatory afterword, that she actually experienced the emotions that she describes. There's a level of emotional honesty here that can't be faked. Here is an example that shows Mia's grief:
"I couldn't stop crying. I knew it was the wrong time to cry publicly now, so late for my mother's death, so prematurely for my father's. What no one ever tells you is that people don't die all at once, but again and again in waves, before their deaths and after. ... I kept crying until my sister put her arms around me, my fallen eyelashes folded inside a crumpled tissue, and said "Come on," and took me to the cafeteria to eat."
And here is a small example of Margo Rabb's poetic eloquence:
"Businessmen marched up Fifth like a gray tweed parade; we strode to the bakery and gazed at the pastries rising like a hundred half-moons in the window."
I think that, among other things, this book is about is how the major wounds that people sustain are passed from generation to generation. Mia's Jewish mother was a baby when she left Europe just before the Holocaust. But she (the mother) was still scarred by it, by the empty branches in her family tree, and by the impact of the genocide on her parents, who never hugged her. She in turn caused grief for Mia, and Mia's father, through her own insecurities (though she unquestionably loved her daughter). Traumatic events leave long shadows.
I think that Margo Rabb is incredibly brave, to be able to share her feelings about the loss of her parents through this novel. Anyone who has ever suffered a loss will be able to relate to Mia's inappropriate laughter, bouts of tears, and attachment to everything that her mother ever touched. The magic is that the book ends with a sense of hope.
So what are the cures for heartbreak? For Mia, they include shopping, eating junk food, finding a best friend, and looking for love (because "A crush removed the world, at least for a little while"). But I think that what Margo Rabb is showing here is that the real cure for heartbreak is to live your life to the fullest, even though the grief from the loss of a parent will never entirely go away. Highly recommended.
A slightly longer version of this book review was originally published on my blog, Jen Robinson's Book Page, on February 25, 2007.
on February 18, 2007
Margo Rabb's "Cures for Heartbreak" is one compelling, wise book for the teen aged reader.
Ninth-grader Mia lives in Queens with her mother, father (who owns a shoe-repair shop), and older, cantankerous sister, Alex. Mia and Alex attend the Bronx High School of Science, where Alex excels as a scientific genius.
One day, mom heads to the ER with a stomachache. 12 days later she's dead. Diagnosis? Melanoma with liver metathesis. Things happen in a blur as Mia finds herself shopping for a dress, with her frugal and decidedly unfeminine sister, for her mother's funeral. Mia, a confused, yet touching narrator, says:
"I stared at the hem of my $119 dress and thought about the one night I'd left the hospital to go home and instead of getting on the 4 train at 33rd Street, I walked all the way to the Barnes & Noble on 54th. I kept walking and when I got there I scanned the shelves of the grief section, the Death & Dying shelves, for a book that would comfort me, that would say exactly the right thing. I'm not sure what I'd been looking for, exactly. Maybe something like What to Do When Your Mother Dies from Melanoma, Which They Thought Was a Stomachache at First. How to Cope When You're Left Alone with Your Father and Sister, Who Drive You Nuts. How to Survive a Funeral, Especially One Hosted by a Disconcertingly Happy Funeral Director and an Upwardly Mobile Rabbi Who Drives a BMW. I didn't find a book I wanted to buy. All that had made me feel better was the walk." (14-15)
The beauty and authenticity of "Cures for Heartbreak" lie in the fact that there are no cures. Mia tries dressing in her mother's clothes, wearing too much makeup, fighting with her sister, reading romance novels, becoming a hypochondriac, and falling in love. The only things that work, though, are time, patience, and the real sympathy of a new friend.
"Cures for Heartbreak" is best suited for readers ages 13 and up. Pick this one for Rabb's honest, beautiful writing and her brave, yet vulnerable narrator. Mia is frightened, lonely and unsure of herself, yet she picks herself up time and time again. In the end, she realizes, "if grief had a permanence, then didn't also love?" (232)
on June 1, 2007
No matter what issue you might be reading about in a YA book --- pregnancy, drugs, depression --- the one point that comes up time and again is this: there are no easy answers. Ever. There are viewpoints, there are arguments, but few come without hard-earned discussion and none can ever hold the final word. To put it plainly, life is never that simple. And, arguably, the most complex of these issues, a concept that is no stranger to the genre, is the most debatable in terms of how one addresses it: death. Even with the seeming inability to construct a definitive, proactive response to death, writers continue to offer meditations on how it can be approached. Some even come very, very close to what one can only suspect is the truth.
In CURES FOR HEARTBREAK, Margo Rabb introduces us to 15-year-old Mia Perlman, whose mother dies 12 days after being diagnosed with melanoma. In her efforts to cope with the aftermath and learn new ways to relate to her older sister, Alex, and her father, Mia begins to reconstruct her own life through a review of her mother's past and a careful study of Mia's present life. In dealing with her grief, Mia confronts fears of her own mortality, the shifting paradigm of life with just her father, and her own forays into love (all with mixed results).
What makes Mia's heartbreak hit home is the skill with which Rabb paints a complete portrait of bereavement. Where some books rely on presenting a protagonist who dwells on the loss of someone wholly wonderful, Rabb chooses to explore the more complex path to healing, one not drenched in sappy sentimentality but rather an assault of all knowledge of the person who is lost. We see not only Mia's sadness at losing a confidant and nurturer but also her less happy memories of her mother: an unconfirmed marital indiscretion, suspected hypochondria, surliness and melancholy.
More importantly, Rabb concentrates not on the brooding and self-pity that can often permeate this type of novel but on an examination of death's antithesis --- love --- as it touches the lives of her father, her mother and even Mia herself. As a result, each chapter collides and colludes to offer both the familiar and the uncharted with humorous and touching detail, breaking and mending the reader's heart in turns.
CURES FOR HEARTBREAK tells it like it is --- there is no comprehensive, sure way out of loss. There is only a drive to comprehend how that loss fits into our lives --- past, present and future --- and our efforts (experimental, at best) to accommodate these new rules into who we are. And as bleak as that can often seem, Rabb assures us with the authority of someone who's been there that as hopeless as the endeavor can feel, a "cure" can present itself in the most unexpected but wonderful way.
--- Reviewed by Brian Farrey
Cures For Heartbreak by Margo Rabb deals with the subject of loss throughout the novel, as its title may suggest. Set in 1991 in Queens, the story revolves around Mia, her sister Alex, and their father. Semi-biographical, the novel chronicles the family's grieving process when Mia's mother (Greta) is admitted to the hospital with a stomachache and dies twelve days later from advanced melanoma.
The most surprising thing about the novel is how vivid Rabb's imagery is throughout. Rabb's simple language and conversational tone make the story and characters come alive on the page. Mia's loss is palpable throughout her narration: "My father handed [the death certificate] to him and recounted the details about our mother--a sudden death, twelve days after the diagnosis; no, no one expected it he was sorry too. Forms were filled out. Then Manny invited us to view the coffins." Rather than sympathizing with Mia in an abstract way, readers are completely drawn into the story. It feels like the novel is describing the reader's personal experiences and talking about their own loss instead of the characters'.
Another dimension is added to the novel because Mia's family is Jewish, her mother arriving in the USA as a baby with her parents in 1939 before America closed its borders to refugee Jews. Rabb uses these close memories of World War Two and the Holocaust to examine Mia's loss in a larger context. The story is incredibly sad, obviously, but also beautiful. It's comforting to see the family try to move forward. Rabb's level of realism is amazing--I felt like I was reading stories from my own life, the details were that vivid.
This novel actually feels more like a series of inter-connected short stories. The plot moves through funeral preparations, friendship, an engagement, and another funeral as Mia's wayward family tries to reconfigure itself without Greta's grounding presence. And eventually the family does figure it out. When the novel ends it is clear that the situation is not ideal, can't be ideal, but that it does get easier to keep going. Because, as Rabb suggests, the most important thing is to keep going in the face of loss. Rather than stay with the grieving process, Rabb shows that losing someone is never the end of a relationship. It's just a reason to value memories even more.
on November 29, 2009
When Mia is 15, her mother is diagnosed with melanoma, then dies 12 days later. Mia had been very close to her mother. They understood each other, in the same way Mia's sister Alex and their father understand each other. Just as the family is figuring out their new roles, Mia's father has a heart attack, followed by Alex leaving for college.
The book is about Mia, her growing up and her healing. Along the way, we see some of her father's story and her sister's story as well. Each of them is an interesting character, but only Mia is truly compelling. Mia meets some very intriguing people along the way, usually through her father's hospital stays. We see all the other characters through Mia's teenage eyes, and it is quite a sight.
The author does a wonderful job of showing us Mia's grief without wallowing in it. We see her explosion at school, and her sorting through her memories of her mother. We see her translate her concern for her health as well as her father's into an obsession with healthy eating, and a panic over her own mole. We also see a number of normal teenage moments in a not-so-normal situation. We see Mia's search for a new best friend, and her quest for a boyfriend, which swings between funny, touching, and (at one point) terrifying.
This book was a very quick read, seeming even shorter than its 238 pages. I read it in one sitting, and we all found it moved quickly. The book delivers what it promises, so if the description appeals to you, give the book a try.
on January 5, 2009
Margo Rabb writes about a young girl who survives a lot, in the book, Cures for Heartbreak. In the book, Mia, her older sister, and her father are grieving over her mother's death: she had been diagnosed with cancer and 12 days later, she died. The family did not take this so well. As Mia wrote in her diary the day she found out her mother was diagnosed she wrote, "If she dies, I'll die." Through out the story, Mia deals with her father having a heart-attack soon after her mother's death, her sister leaving for college, having crushes, eating "healthy heart" meals with her father, which led to a better relationship between them; but what is most important to Mia, is that her mom will always be there and that love never dies.
Margo Rabb grew up in Queens, New York, which is where Mia lives in the book. She experienced something much like this book as a child. She lost her mother at a young age and it was very hard for her to go through. She also had a older sister but her personality was not at all like Mia's older sister`s personality.
I think this is a great book to read and it shows that whatever you are going through, there is a way out of it, and that it isn't the end of the world. It is something that a lot of people can relate to, so they can see how to deal with stuff like that. There wasn't really anything that I didn't like in the book. I would say it is one of the best books I have ever read!
on July 11, 2011
I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
The focus is on Mia, a teen whose mother dies 12 days after being diagnosed with Melanoma. Three months later, her dad has a heart-attack.
The book focuses on Mia's struggle to cope with her mother's death, her father's illness, and being a teenager.
on March 21, 2007
I very much enjoyed Margo Rabb's earlier books, the Missing Person's series. So the moment Cures for Heartbreak was released, I ordered it. Having just finished the book, I have to say that I am very impressed by Rabb's new style. While her previous books were light, fun reads, Cures for Heartbreak really takes her writing to another level.
The book follows the lead character, 15-year-old Mia, through her first year following her mother's sudden death. Rabb does a fabulous job of addressing Mia's pain at the loss, while not romanticizing the character. The reader's heart goes out to Mia, not only because of her loss, but because she at times is self-critical for seeking superficial comfort to relieve her pain. Because Mia has such depth, Cures for Heartbreak has an honest tone rarely encountered in any literature, let alone in teen literature. I highly recommend this book to readers of any age.
on March 3, 2007
CURES FOR HEARTBREAK reads more like a series of interconnected short stories than a novel, but the format works. It gives the readers brief, poignant glimpses into the life of its narrator, Mia, during the first year after her mother's sudden death. Told with both humor and painful rawness, the novel should resonate with those who have experienced a loss, and make those who haven't feel almost as if they've been there, too.
What makes the disjointed structure work better than anything else is the many well-developed characters. Each chapter focuses on Mia's relationships with those around her: her father, her older sister, her friends and teachers at school, the people she meets at the hospital, and her memories of her mother. Every character is fleshed out on the page, with distinctive voices and quirks, so even in the short glimpses readers get, they get a clear picture of the relationships and how Mia is starting to get back to "normal" life among them.
Mia's voice is equally important in making the novel work. Where it could have been flat-out depressing and perhaps overwhelming, her sarcastic comments and comic approaches to certain situations (for example, she images the funeral home as a morbid Broadway musical) break the sadness, while also making the tragedy seem all that much worse in its absurdity. Wavering between jadedness and insecurity, Mia comes across as fully human, too old to be a kid any more but too young to know how to be an adult. Teen readers should find her an easy character to sympathize with, and an entertaining narrator for the journey.
CURES FOR HEARTBREAK is not an easy read, simply because of the subject matter and the depth with which it is portrayed. But the humor and the engaging characters will draw readers in, and Mia's progress through mourning will keep them reading, wondering how she will reshape her life after this unexpected turn. She makes mistakes, and struggles with her emotions and fears, but she grows and learns as well. And in the end, there's more hope than sorrow.
Reviewed by: Lynn Crow
on November 19, 2013
FYI, this novel contains graphic pornographic sexual content, brought to my attention as a school media specialist by an 8th grader. We cannot screen all the books we purchase, but the student who brought it to my attention was shocked by the explicit description of sexual behavior by the characters, as was I. Teen novels do not need pornographic scenes to make them readable by teens, or adults for that matter. Have we as adults become so hardened by exposure to sexual conduct in the media that we have lost sensitivity to the purity of a young and innocent mind?