Cures For Heartbreak (2007) by Margo Rabb deals with the subject of loss throughout the novel, as its title may suggest. Find it on Bookshop.
Set in 1991 in Queens, the story revolves around Mia, her sister Alex, and their father. Semi-biographical, the novel chronicles the family’s grieving process when Mia’s mother (Greta) is admitted to the hospital with a stomachache and dies twelve days later from advanced melanoma.
The most surprising thing about the novel is how vivid Rabb’s imagery is throughout. Rabb’s simple language and conversational tone make the story and characters come alive on the page. Mia’s loss is palpable throughout her narration: “My father handed [the death certificate] to him and recounted the details about our mother–a sudden death, twelve days after the diagnosis; no, no one expected it he was sorry too. Forms were filled out. Then Manny invited us to view the coffins.” Rather than sympathizing with Mia in an abstract way, readers are completely drawn into the story. It feels like the novel is describing the reader’s personal experiences and talking about their own loss instead of the characters’.
Another dimension is added to the novel because Mia’s family is Jewish, her mother arriving in the USA as a baby with her parents in 1939 before America closed its borders to refugee Jews. Rabb uses these close memories of World War Two and the Holocaust to examine Mia’s loss in a larger context. The story is incredibly sad, obviously, but also beautiful. It’s comforting to see the family try to move forward. Rabb’s level of realism is amazing–I felt like I was reading stories from my own life, the details were that vivid.
This novel actually feels more like a series of inter-connected short stories. The plot moves through funeral preparations, friendship, an engagement, and another funeral as Mia’s wayward family tries to reconfigure itself without Greta’s grounding presence. And eventually the family does figure it out. When the novel ends it is clear that the situation is not ideal, can’t be ideal, but that it does get easier to keep going. Because, as Rabb suggests, the most important thing is to keep going in the face of loss. Rather than stay with the grieving process, Rabb shows that losing someone is never the end of a relationship. It’s just a reason to value memories even more.
Possible Pairings: Before I Die by Jenny Downham, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Maus by Art Spiegelman, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin