Nothing but Blue

214p. Houghton Harcourt. May 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-618-95961-7.
Gr 8 Up—A teenage girl survives an explosion, but her memories are sporadic, and the haunting words, "All dead. No one survived. All Dead" are stuck in her head. She begins walking, trying not to think about the past or the future. Along the road, she adopts the name Blue and a stray dog that refuses to leave her alone. Blue is convinced that she must avoid people. She finds food in Dumpsters and bathes in ponds and public restrooms. Snake, a damaged young man, is one of the few people she interacts with; like her, he is displaced and trying to escape a painful past. He assists Blue in reaching the house in which she grew up, and it is here that she must finally face the reality of her situation. Chapters alternate between Blue's present and what memories she has of her past. But like the rest of the book, the flashbacks are written in first person, a confusing choice considering Blue is supposed to be suffering from memory loss. This would be a minor complaint in an otherwise engaging story if the abrupt conclusion, so lacking in credibility, were not such a disappointment.—Cary Frostick, Mary Riley Styles Public Library, Falls Church, VA
Dissociative and partially amnesiac following an unknown trauma, Blue sets off cross-country to return to the coastal home she remembers. Drifting eastward between towns, she's joined by a stray dog with whom she develops an almost psychic connection. The narrative then begins to alternate between "Now" (Blue's dreamlike journey through the margins of society) and "Before" (flashbacks to the average teen drama that was her life pre-amnesia) -- and Blue repeatedly encounters a news story about a family recently dead in a horrific fire. This is more character study and atmospheric allegory for the grieving process than coherent narrative arc, though the contrast between love interests Jake (in "Before") and Snake (in "Now") makes for some interesting parallels in the dual plot lines. The disorientation of "Now" is palpable, while the shallowness of the "Before" segments, in which Blue rages against her parents' decision to move, is jarring. Readers in it for the amnesia mystery will be disappointed by the slow pace, but those interested in the psychological landscape will appreciate the moments of kindness from strangers, the sympathetic portraits of people who fit best in the margins, and the overall optimistic vision of human nature. claire e. gross

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