Published by HarperTeen on October 23, 2018
One night in March, a terrible tragedy shakes the Queens neighborhood where Jessica Nolan and Lucas Rossi live.
The year since the shooting has played out differently for Jess and Lucas, both of whom were affected by that night in eerily similar, and deeply personal, ways. Lucas has taken up boxing and lives under the ever-watchful eye of his overprotective parents, while trying to put good into the world through random acts of kindness — to pay back a debt he feels he owes the universe for taking the wrong brother.
Jess struggles to take care of her depressed mother, with the help of her elderly next-door neighbor, and tries to make ends meet. Without her best friend, who’s across the country at a special post-trauma boarding school, and her brother, who died that night, Jess feels totally alone in the world.
When Jess and Lucas's paths cross at their shared after-school job, they start to become friends… and then more.
I, like so many other people, have the world’s most unfortunate party trick: I get to say that I have PTSD. Oh, wait, that’s not a party trick, it’s a travesty? Oh well. Either way, I still have PTSD and a piece of birthday cake.
Because of this super fun designation, I read a lot of books about PTSD. Young adult, new adult, adult – whatever it is, if it’s about living through an awful time and coming out the other side of it victorious, chances are good I’ll read it. So when I saw that that lovely Amy Giles had her sophomore debut coming out, I requested and was lucky enough to be gifted a beautiful ARC of That Night. It was a wonderful story, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to have read it.
How I’d Describe This Book to a Friend
The focal point of That Night centers around two teenagers: Lucas and Jess. Both lost someone during a terrible, unexpected mass shooting, and both are coping in their own ways. Lucas lost his brother, a star athlete and his parents’ golden boy. His mother has turned into a smother (get it?? hahahaha ….) due to having lost her first baby, and it’s making Lucas’s skin crawl. He takes up boxing as a way to put his emotions into something tangible, but he can’t out-box panic attacks and anxieties, which plague him.
Jess lost her brother as well – but while Lucas’s mother over-loves him as a result, Jess’s mother totally folds in on herself, her grief becoming tangible and poisonous. Her father having left when she was very young, now it’s just Jess and her mom who is not doing much besides sleeping these days. Jess applies for a job at the local hardware store to try to earn some money to pay the overdue bills that keep piling up on their kitchen table – the same hardware store where Lucas works.
Lucas and Jess’s romance is a realistic one – a slow-burning romance with solid, sweet foundation. They are friends first and foremost, and they feel out each other’s emotions and issues carefully, gently. We see Lucas slowly open up, explain to Jess how he feels when he has these panic attacks. Jess, meanwhile, eventually lets Lucas in enough to see her situation at home – she’s ashamed and angry and sad all rolled up into one, but it matters less with Lucas at her side. The grief blinders slowly fall away when they are together, and their transformation from coworkers to friends to lovers is wonderful.
Even the supporting characters are great – the only one not really fleshed out in my opinion is Lucas’s father. We get to know Lucas’s best friends who work at the store with him, Jess’s mother and caring next-door neighbor, Lucas’s mother and her love of MSG-laden casseroles. We even get to know Jess’s best friend who is away at a PTSD camp after barely surviving the shooting herself – and we never actually meet her, we just see unanswered texts Jess sends her in times of trouble or worry. That’s how powerful Amy Giles’s characterization is.
The Bottom Line
I can’t lie and say that That Night goes where nobody else does – there are many books about shooting-related PTSD and how people handle it, but unlike many others That Night makes the focal point some of the more unsavory parts – when you might be okay but your parents fall apart, or when even something as simple as a slamming door causes a full-blown anxiety attack.
You won’t find any new boundaries broken here, but that’s not what you should read this book for anyway. What you should be looking for is a sweet slow-burn romance that tackles uncomfortable, real-life issues. Does it wrap it up a little too neatly? Maybe, but sometimes we need fluff in our lives. It’s not always pretty, but it’s real. And that’s what’s important in a year like 2018 when life feels impossible at times – unflinching, real love.
“Life is either about moving forward or looking back. We’re moving forward again, but we’ll never forget what’s back there behind us.”