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Review: The Lucky Ones by Liz Lawson

Review: The Lucky Ones by Liz LawsonThe Lucky Ones by Liz Lawson
Published by Delacorte Press on April 7, 2020
Pages: 352
Format: ARC, Paperback

For fans of Thirteen Reasons Why, This Is How It Ends, and All the Bright Places, comes a new novel about life after. How do you put yourself back together when it seems like you've lost it all?
May is a survivor. But she doesn't feel like one. She feels angry. And lost. And alone. Eleven months after the school shooting that killed her twin brother, May still doesn't know why she was the only one to walk out of the band room that day. No one gets what she went through--no one saw and heard what she did. No one can possibly understand how it feels to be her.
Zach lost his old life when his mother decided to defend the shooter. His girlfriend dumped him, his friends bailed, and now he spends his time hanging out with his little sister...and the one faithful friend who stuck around. His best friend is needy and demanding, but he won't let Zach disappear into himself. Which is how Zach ends up at band practice that night. The same night May goes with her best friend to audition for a new band.
Which is how May meets Zach. And how Zach meets May. And how both might figure out that surviving could be an option after all.

If you read my blog a bunch, you probably know by now that I am really anti-gun. I read a lot (a lot) of books about school shootings, because they are topical and important – sadly becoming even more important as time goes on. So when my sweet blogging BFF Katie over at Pages and Pugs said she was sending around her ARC copy of Liz Lawson’s The Lucky Ones as an impromptu “early review train,” I was like “hell yeah, lay that dead tree on me.” (I mean I am 99% sure I said no such thing but the gist is there). And I am super glad I did.


How I’d Describe This Book to a Friend

My world ground to a halt on October 26, 2016. I had dinner on the stove (I was actually making dinner for that night and cooking ahead! I had just joined Weight Watchers and was super into it), the dog had just been walked, I’d picked out a movie from Redbox on the way home from work – it was a normal Thursday – and that evening, one bullet removed every sense of normalcy I had. I lost my fiance to suicide that night, nearly 3 years ago, and have worked through Many Big Feelings about the situation since. I was 27, but nobody deserves to be widowed at any point in their lives regardless of how young or old they were. Anyway, all of this is to say that I very much understand survivor’s guilt.

Our female main character, May, is definitely going through some of her own survivor’s guilt. She lost her twin brother, Jordan, in a school shooting a year ago, and she is having a damn hard time dealing with the fallout. Jordan was the perfect child, while May was the wild one, and without Jordan to orbit around her parents seem to have fallen into a zombie-like trance. May is the first character I’ve seen in a book on this subject matter who is fucking mad, and she has every right to be. Usually the character who gets the “I have PTSD and I’m so mad about it” trope is male – let me tell you, it was so refreshing to see someone who goes through a tragedy and comes out the other side completely unladylike still. May curses, she vandalizes private property, she screams and cries and has moments of really debilitating fugue states. And I intimately understand May, even though she is in high school and I was a working-class adult, because I have PTSD too and girl, I get it.

Our male lead is Zach, and his life is kind of a shitshow too. Zach had nothing to do with the shooting – he didn’t even go to that school – but his mother is the defense attorney assigned to the shooter’s case, and he has been made a complete and total social outcast because of it. His girlfriend and his best friend left him – for each other. If that isn’t enough, someone keeps vandalizing his garage door with spray paint, and his father is absolutely useless and too depressed to get out of bed or put on real clothes most days – with his mom so busy being a lawyer and making him a pariah, taking care of both himself and his little sister Gwen all falls on his shoulders.

One day, Zach and May catch each other’s eye across the room at a band audition they were both coerced into attending. I think you can guess what happens from there – this is, after all, a young adult romance – but it is so much deeper than that.

The Bottom Line

If I could, my tagline would be “I don’t like YA romances.” But they keep finding me this year, and they keep finding me because they are subverting every single expectation I have about how awful they’ll be. I was wrong about you, YA romances. Well, some of you, anyway.

This is a YA romance, but it’s more than that, too. It’s a story about perseverance, and about hope in the face of tragedy. It’s a story about how not everyone can just go to a ceremony to honor those who have died in a tragedy and be A’OK afterwards. It’s about PTSD’s ugly, dramatic face and how hard it is to feel sane when it comes up behind you and sinks its fangs into your neck. The Lucky Ones is about the aftermath, but it’s about how to cope in that aftermath – not some cutesy group therapy where one day you wake up and you’re totally fine again! But the hard work that goes into it, and what it does to those left in the wake of a tragedy – and the ones who love those who are left behind.

I urge anyone who works with teenagers in any sense, or anyone who has experienced a violent tragedy, to pick this one up. Liz Lawson hit the nail on the head here, and I wish May were real so I could hug her and share some sushi and explain that one morning you’ll wake up and it will hurt a little less – and that amount will slowly ebb away. Give this one a shot. It’s worth it, I promise.

“A small part of my brain […] thinks that maybe Lucy’s right, that Jordan did know how much I loved him, that he always knew.

I just wish I could have said goodbye.”

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