Fiction Literary Recommendations

Marlena by Julie Buntin

From its very first line – “Tell me what you can’t forget, and I’ll tell you who you are” – to its last, Marlena is haunting, poignant, and extremely well written. Reading this book felt like watching a sculptor carve a statue, scraping away every sliver of unneeded rock until only the raw, truest shape is left. What I mean is, every word was chosen with thought, and the finished product is gorgeous.

When fifteen-year-old Cat moves to a poor, rural town in Michigan, she initiates a self-reinvention. Where she was once a rule-following, innocent, hard-working high schooler, she is now a school-skipping, drinking, risk-taking teen. As she tries on this identity, Cat is drawn to her new neighbor, Marlena, an unruly, pill-popping, beautiful girl of seventeen. The two girls become inseparable and as their lives intertwine, their bad habits intensify and compound.

Now, years later, Cat is visited by Marlena’s younger brother and she is forced to remember the blissful, painful year that shaped her entire life. And all we know is that Cat is an alcoholic and Marlena is dead.

Marlena is one of those books that is both difficult and rewarding. It doesn’t shy away from exploring the tough issues of drug abuse, class, and poverty. In fact, it was so dark at times I felt suffocated by it. But that’s the beauty of the writing; Buntin is so adept she can fully submerge you into her characters’ lives, no matter how different they are from our own. This is storytelling at its finest.



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