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Without Tess Hardcover – October 11, 2011

4.1 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

“I’ll never let you go,” 10-year-old Lizzie’s sister, Tess, tells her. Five years later, Tess, who was mentally ill, has committed suicide, and Lizzie hides the guilt she feels about the night that her sister died, even though she has weekly sessions with a kind school psychologist. Interspersed with lines of Tess’ poetry, Lizzie’s first-person voice alternates between flashbacks and the present, revealing Tess’ escalating illness and its impact on her family. Lizzie had been enchanted by Tess’ wildly imaginative games of selkies, flying horses, and magic, and she’d needed only her sister as a companion. But as Lizzie matures socially, Tess becomes increasingly ill, and her games become increasingly dangerous. Pixley’s lyrical writing is at its best in the childhood scenes, which open a window on a family struggling to help a mentally ill child. The story is resolved hastily through the persistent help of a sensitive (and also hot) boy, but the hopeful ending is deeply satisfying. Wrenching and authentic, this is a skillfully written, courageous look at a difficult subject. Grades 8-12. --Lynn Rutan


“Following up on themes raised in her well-received first novel, ‘Freak,'…Marcella Pixley continues to explore the complexities of sibling loyalty.” ―New York Times

“Pixley's memory play is a difficult, sadly beautiful ode to a complex and heartbreaking issue.” ―Publishers Weekly Online, Starred Review

“… [a] lyrical, heartrending novel.” ―School Library Journal, Starred Review

“Pixley, who skillfully tackled another complicated sisterly relationship in Freak...takes a rather provocative step here: she sets up some alluring and imaginative magical conceits that will immediately catch the attention of fantasy readers just as they did Lizzie, and then mercilessly makes their appeal their danger.” ―BCCB

“…smooth, well-paced, and contemporary.” ―VOYA Online

“Pixley (Freak, 2007) once again plumbs the emotional depths of a tough subject with sensitivity and insight into the complexities of human nature and sibling bonds.” ―Kirkus Reviews


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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 - 18 years
  • Lexile Measure: 790L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR); 1 edition (October 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374361746
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374361747
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,852,153 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This was the best story I've read in a while. The magical feel of the story, and the author's writing was simply amazing. I was held captive by this story from the start. I really don't want to say too much regarding the plot, for fear of giving away something vital. All I can really say is: read this book! You will not be disappointed. It's funny, mysterious, silly, enchanting, and sad. For anyone who has a family, or anyone they care about in their life, it will definitely take you on an emotional journey. I would recommend it to everyone.
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Format: Hardcover
3.5 stars

This is a well written book that touches on something that's rarely seen in YA books, and that's mental illness. The story itself centers on the young Lizzie, the forgotten sister who's constantly caught between her mentally ill sister and her parents who for the majority of the story are in denial over Tess's problem. Tess and Lizzie seem to have that fantastic childhood that's full of make believe and magic. Their world is one that takes them to different places and allows me them to be anything they want to be. It's full of possibilities, happiness and magic. Little by little the world that centers around the two sisters becomes darker and darker as Tess starts to blur the lines of make believe and reality.

Lizzie herself is one of these girls I wanted to reach out to. Now a teenager she's in therapy, turning to cope with what happened during her childhood. This poor girl is so strong and yet so broken. Her emotions and feelings of what happened through out the book were completely justified and understandable at times, and other times it was hard to connect with her. As a child there were times she knew something wasn't quite right, but she couldn't quite grasp what that was. Tess, the older sister was someone I despised from the get go. The things she does to her sister were not only harmful and selfish, but they permanently scared her sister. She had absolutely no regard to Lizzie's safety or anyone else's and didn't mind inflicting pain upon her. On the same token, it was a little heart breaking seeing how quickly she goes down hill.

Marcella really does a great job at taking readers into this delusional, darker world of her mental ill character.
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Format: Hardcover
As Tess descends into mental illness, she takes Lizzie along with her for a ride. Lizzie worships her older sister and will do anything she asks, even when she knows it is wrong. Without Tess starts with the aftermath of a long, traumatic situation for Lizzie and flashes back to when it all went off the rails. The author does a great job of conveying Tess and her illness, with great characterization. Lizzie's story was not as successful, as I never really felt her struggle to come to terms with what happened; rather, I just read how she felt. Although the plot was well paced, it just was not that memorable. The story of Tess should have been more compelling, but I finished the book and was not really all that moved. Without Tess was well written, but just middle of the road for me.
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Format: Hardcover
When I started this one I wasn't expecting the story that came. This is a tale that weaves in and out of the present and the past, it's as much about Tess and her mental instability as it is about Lizzie and her need to hold onto the sister she loved. I find stories regarding mental illness fascinating and this one was really intriguing because of the fantasy world that Tess lived in. So many times I found myself holding my breath, wondering if that moment was the moment that would change Tess and Lizzie's world, I knew it would happen, I just didn't know when. While Tess is definitely in a different mind frame than most of us, she is still relatable which makes her endearing as she tries to hold on to what makes her happy. Lizzie, even as the little sister, knows the difference between fantasy and reality and at times tries to reel her sister in while at the same time, she wants to believe in her sister's world. It is a heartbreaking story about friendship, family, loss, and survival.

Reviewed by Jessica for Book Sake.
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Format: Hardcover
Without Tess was quite the read. It was utterly chilling at times and once or twice I had to set the book down, take a big breath, and start reading again. I would recommend this for anyone over the age of 14 or so who also has a strong stomach and a love of poetry. It's lyrical writing is utterly compelling as well as haunting. It was a startling portrayal of mental illness and how far loyalty really can go. But let's get simple with some Pros and Cons.

Start with the Cons. The main would be that the poetry verses that Tess ( the narrator's mentally ill sister) writes that pop up every few chapters, are a bit unrealistic, regardless of the fact that Tess was obviously pretty dramatic and an excellent writer. I was wowed by the poetry and I respect this author highly. There's just no way an eleven year old could have written stuff like that. I didn't really mind that much, just because I was so sucked into the pure amazing writing that it all was. Another not so minor flaw to point out was the family's reaction to Tess's mental illness.

Right from the beginning it was pretty clear that there was something very wrong with this little girl. So why did the family wait so long to take action? I understand that she wasn't exactly burning the house down or threatening to kill them all or anything, but her mother remarked several times about the disturbing nature of the images she drew. ( A girl with her mouth violently stapled shut, and the mother doesn't blink?) Then there was a part when the girls went to the beach and completely stripped and lay naked in the waves, trying to turn into seals. And no one noticed?! Then, Lizzie (the narrator) walks back to her parents with a giant gash on her cheek. Again, neither bats an eyelash.
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