Saturday, October 22, 2011

Without Tess by Marcella Pixley

Tess and Lizzie are sisters, sisters as close as can be, who share a secret world filled with selkies, flying horses, and a girl who can transform into a wolf  in the middle of the night. But when Lizzie is ready to grow up, Tess clings to their fantasies. As Tess sinks deeper and deeper into her delusions, she decides that she can’t live in the real world any longer and leaves Lizzie and her family forever. Now, years later, Lizzie is in high school and struggling to understand what happened to her sister. With the help of a school psychologist and Tess’s battered journal, Lizzie searches for a way to finally let Tess go. (from goodreads)

Without Tess is not at all what I expected it to be. Where I settled in for (another) YA book dealing with the loss of an older sister, it quickly became evident that I was reading a book unlike any I have read before.

The premise is simple: Lizzie’s sister Tess died (just how is withheld from the reader until nearing the climax) and, years later, Lizzie is still coming to terms with everything that happened. The story is presented with flashbacks of Tess and Lizzie’s childhood as well as present tense narration, consisting of Lizzie with the school psychologist, with her parents and with a boy (childhood friend and now classmate).

My gosh. I took a moment to settle into the story due to such a distinct and unusual writing style. The writing is imaginative and descriptions are often startling ~ it’s gorgeously written, if it were a painting, it would be bright, swirling, delicate, mesmerising, with a hint of darkness and utterly unique. Words were carefully, lovingly chosen, and not always the words you would expect, making reading sentences alone often a surprising experience, the rhythm and melody of the passages taking on a life of their own.

It was an extremely emotive experience, reading about two young girls, playing at make-believe. I adored that aspect, reminiscent of my childhood. Of course, as the story unravels, the make-believe takes on a life of it’s own for Tess, who becomes such a dynamic and unpredictable character. I mean, WOW, some of the things she did/believed blurred the line between psychosis and reality, creating a pool of tension (the tension built so well, especially knowing that Tess has died, which made certain scenes ominous even in it’s innocence).

I read this in one sitting (from midnight to 3am, in a bungalow in Bali, sleep evading me). It was a swirly and addictive experience and, at one point, I felt so caught up in the events I wasn’t at all sure I wanted to be in the story (if that makes sense). Ultimately, though, I thought it was brave and I still feel echoes of sadness just thinking about it.

It’s an extraordinary story. Much of it set in childhood, scenes and memories of young girls, making it not entirely YA in feeling. It’s also something gorgeously different. I recommend it for fans of lyrical writing, readers who like to snuggle up and shed a tear (it’s a sad one). Fans of sisterly love and mental illness (from a fresh and startling angle, a mind so overcome in a girl so young). Personally, this really worked for me. Consider me a fan, this is one story I will not forget. 

Without Tess @ goodreads
Without Tess @ Macmillan

Thanks to Macmillan and Netgalley :D

Without Tess is available now


  1. This sounds amazing although I'm not sure I could cope with it. Fantastic review as usual x

  2. The writing in this one was very evocative and atmospheric, and the sister relationship so intricate. Nice to see other readers appreciating it too! (What did you think of the ending, btw? That's the one thing that didn't work for me - it seemed too hurried and typical in what was otherwise such a unique book.)

  3. This sounds like a very surprising read and your review has intrigued me.

    I think I'm going to try to get my paws on this book :D

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  4. This sounds amazing. Now to go see if it's an Aussie exclusive or something I can get here. :)

  5. I'm totally the type of reader who likes to snuggle up and shed a tear.

    I have a copy of Without Tess, but don't foresee reading it for awhile :-(

    That STATED I am excited for being able to read it eventually!!

  6. "it quickly became evident that I was reading a book unlike any I have read before." YES! ;)

    Gorgeous review nomes :)

  7. Wonderful review, you have made me want to rush out and buy this one. It sounds fantastic and I love how you describe the writing.

  8. Beautiful review Nomes. I'm totally a fan too, loved this one if you can say that about a book that had me crying buckets ;)


Thanks for the commenty love :)