By Holly Nicole Hoxter
Available now from HarperTEEN
I won this copy forever ago, and thus needed to reread it before writing this review. It took me a little while longer to read it this time. Almost always, I pay more attention to detail and how things fit together the second time, whereas the first time I'm racing along because I must know what happens next.
What I really admire about Holly Nicole Hoxter is the way she makes Lainey Pike's grief so true while still making Lainey an appealing character. Lainey's goals in life are quite different than mine, which sometimes puts me off. She's just graduated high school, but she already knows she's marrying her boyfriend Riley as well as attending community college with him. But things in life always happen unexpectedly, and her stepfather, grandmother, and mother died in short order. Now she's parenting her troubled brother Collin with her estranged sister Vallery.
It's lucky for Lainey in this difficult time that she has Riley, who understands her moods and doesn't mind keeping an eye on Collin. Unfortunately, Lainey wants to hurt. Though she sometimes seems callous to the deaths, she's still processing them, especially her mother's suicide. Riley is too good at comforting her. Being around him makes her feel better, and she can't have that. What she can have is the new guy in town, Eric. He's a nice guy - if not Riley - and interested. He doesn't know what's going on, which gives Lainey a comfortable space.
But I find the family sections as compelling as the romance. Vallery and Lainey want to do well by Collin, but at the same time neither of them are close to being responsible parents, especially to a boy who had behavior problems even before he lost both of his adoptive parents in short order. It's interesting to see them try to act as siblings and parents at the same time - they accept their new responsibility, but it's a grudging acceptance. While much YA seems to happen in a shiny world where money is endless, Vallery and Lainey are quite aware that their jobs are not enough to support a family of three, which is an extra burden on top of all the messy emotions.
Things progress wonderfully, as the small things finally allow Lainey to grieve for each of the people she lost. The things that cause her transformation are logical yet illogical, which is very true. You never know what will finally push you over the edge - or if it will push you over in a good or a bad way.
In some ways, THE SNOWBALL EFFECT is a difficult book. There are no action scenes. A romance is central, but it isn't a sweet and giddy or angsty and forbidden. It's part and parcel of a small, meditative world, where a teen girl is simply trying to moving on when she's become an adult too quickly. THE SNOWBALL EFFECT will definitely attract readers who are interested in character driven novels. Lainey's voice is appealing even as she tries to push away from everything she's known. (In a sideways manner, she reminds me of Parker from Courtney Summer's CRACKED UP TO BE, except I like her far more.)