Pieces of You
Penguin Random House, $20.00,
Pieces of You is a typical YA coming-of-age novel that surprisingly offers more than a cliché. Not least, it is uniquely set in the familiar setting of Auckland. Eileen Merriman creates genuine teenage characters – one aspect within the YA genre that often feels lacking or underdeveloped, and so is much appreciated when done right.
The story revolves around 15-turning-16-year-old Rebecca McQuilten, who has recently moved up to Auckland from Dunedin with her parents. However, a warning: the very first line can be triggering. Although it’s refreshing that Merriman does not dwell much on Rebecca’s back-story, the point at which she chooses entry into the plot can be quite confronting. Feeling lost in a considerably larger and varied environment, and whilst going through the turbulence of teenage years, Rebecca explores different coping mechanisms. Some of these are avoided topics in everyday conversation, and some have become familiar in our culture. Rebecca tries these after an incident during the summer – an incident that, sadly, was not surprising, given the society we live in. If anything is taken away by the reader from reading this book, it’s understanding the importance of consent.
Though Merriman does, to some extent, paint a portrait of a stereotypically insecure teenage girl, she still manages to make Rebecca’s character interesting enough for the reader to want to keep reading. For one, she actually has a passion. I can’t count how many female protagonists there are in YA literature who seemingly have no purpose in life before the love interest comes along. Therefore, the very fact that Rebecca has something she likes to do, despite all her moping, makes her character interesting to explore. Reading and writing are her hobbies, and the plentiful literary references within this novel, from Sylvia Plath to Ernest Hemingway, are sure to delight any widely-read reader. More than just being a writer, Rebecca also aspires to become a surgeon. I mean, wow. How many YA characters are there who actually know what job they want in the future? The permeation of daily student life and goals makes Pieces of You so understandable, and therefore enjoyable, for the average teenage reader.
And then we get to Cory Marshall. Neighbour, 16-turning-17 and part-Māori, he fascinates Rebecca, but of course she thinks he’s way out of her league. However, it turns out he’s an even bigger book-lover than she is. Swoon. Their treehouse book discussions and late-night poem swapping send them both on the bittersweet path of falling in love for the first time which, I have to admit, never gets old, despite its guaranteed appearance in a YA novel. Merriman really knows what she’s doing when developing Rebecca’s (or Becs, as Cory calls her) and Cory’s relationship, with heartstring-tugging lines that make you wish you were in the story. This is why I recommend not reading past page 272.
… But, obviously, the end is where the coming-of-age and life lessons come in. Regrets, anger, new beginnings, you name it – they’re all there. Even though, in this sense, Pieces of You doesn’t offer anything particularly new, it really is the metaphorical journey and the relationships of the characters within the novel that make this book worth reading.
Flora Fan is 16 years old and from Auckland. For more reviews from young New Zealand readers, go to www.hookedonbooks.org.nz.