Monday, December 21, 2009

How It Ends: Laura Wiess

SUMMARY (courtesy of

All Hanna's wanted since sophomore year is Seth. She's gone out with other guys, even gained a rep for being a flirt, all the while hoping cool, guitar-playing Seth will choose her. Then she gets him -- but their relationship is hurtful, stormy and critical, not at all what Hanna thinks a perfect love should be. Bewildered by Seth's treatment of her and in need of understanding, Hanna decides to fulfill her school's community service requirement by spending time with Helen, her terminally ill neighbor, who she's turned to for comfort and wisdom throughout her life. But illness has changed Helen into someone Hanna hardly knows, and her home is not the refuge it once was. Feeling more alone than ever, Hanna gets drawn into an audiobook the older woman is listening to, a fierce, unsettling love story of passion, sacrifice, and devotion. Hanna's fascinated by the idea that such all-encompassing love can truly exist, and without her even realizing it, the story begins to change her.

Until the day when the story becomes all too real...and Hanna's world is spun off its axis by its shattering, irrevocable conclusion.


Heartrending, catastrophically beautiful. I am once again completely in awe of Wiess' writing. She pulls in so many different elements in this book and entwines them faultlessly. This story not only tells a modern tale of a high school girl in love but the tragic history of a young couple, brought together by horrific circumstances yet still finding an endless love. There is a story within the story- the audiobook that captivates Hanna and in so many ways, that tale is even better than Hanna's. The reason it exists in this book is ingenious and I found myself just as eager to hear more of it as Hanna became.

The writing is astounding and the plot heartfelt. The effort and thought Wiess put into this story is very clear and as with her debut novel Such A Pretty Girl, my emotions were strung along on a twisting, turning extensive roller coaster. Shock coursed through me more than once but towards the end with the most impact. In many ways, I should have seen that end coming but I became so lost in the story- so engrossed in what was happening right then- I put no thought in what was going to happen in the coming 30, 20, 10 pages.

There are a multitude of questions about a range of topics that are brought up in this book- questions and subjects that are timeless, repeating with each new generation no matter how much progress we may have made. There are absolutes- and there are thousands of gray areas. How It Ends delves headlong into plenty of those gray areas, spinning similar problems in different ways with different outcomes.

Character development is strong in this book and though there are many places where I want to smack Hanna for being an idiot, she is being a 16 year old girl, desperate and crazy in love with just enough hope to find reason to keep going despite how obvious it is she should stop. We all do this- we read books or look at our friends, see the pathetic situation they are in and beat our heads against a wall trying to make them listen to us and see it like we do. But we don't see it like THEY do- and when it's us in the middle of it, we have the prophetic rose colored glasses on and choose to not see things like everyone else does. That scenario played out with Hanna and I think it added a great, naive element to the story in light of all the other events. In some ways, this is a coming of age story but in a way that not many people go through it.

Hanna's character is one I felt for and the glimpses into her past only deepened my affection for her. The alternating perspectives between Hanna and Helen really helped this story- putting the reader into both of their minds, getting to know them intimately. Her growth is the most profound but Helen's additions did help build her in many ways. Jesse was probably my favorite character because he was so sweet but so wrong in several ways- he had the perfect amount of turn off and appeal.

The ending- I don't even know what to say. It stunned me, took my breath away, left me in thought, and cloaked me in contentment. This ending was bittersweet in many ways but tied the entire work together- without ever just taking an easy way out. There were no loose ends in this book.

I give this one 5 stars for many reasons, from the overall plot to the characters to the writing and raw emotion. This one was hard for me to read- the debilitating disease that Helen endures is the same one that took my aunt and while she didn't have it to the extent Helen does, there were plenty of features the same- plenty of things I remember. It took me longer than it should have to read this one because of that but the story was still completely breathtaking and gut wrenching. Though much of the material is hard to read and highlights some of the darker times in American history, I recommend this one to pretty much anyone who can stomach some of it.


  1. I love your review, they're really great. Laura Wiess is such a fantastic author. I love this novel, it's beyond terrific.

  2. When I first heard of this novel, I decided that I was never going to read it. Books about bad relationships just aren't my thing. But... after reading your review (which was very good by the way), I think I might give a shot. Thanks!

  3. This sounds really good. I am halfway through one of Wiess novels, and have read another one before. I love her writing, her novels are fantastic. Glad you enjoyed this, it is on my TBR list now :)

  4. I though it was kinda sad and really confronting, but i guess its worth a read if you like that kind of book.

  5. It's told in alternating perspectives by the cast of characters, and is absolutely engaging. It's both beautiful and heartbreaking.

  6. I definitely want to read this one now!

  7. I am so happy that Laura is starting to get the recognition she deserves with her work! Isn't she just amazing?

    Great review! I agree with you 100%!

  8. Amazing review. I need to get a copy of this it sounds really good!