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Nothing Like You

Nothing Like You - Lauren Strasnick I was up until the early hours of this morning devouring this, and I feel... emotionally bludgeoned and completely wrung out. Will attempt to review when I have (a) slept and (b) regained some objectivity. Later”You are very loved.”…”You need to work harder at loving yourself.”I hardly know where to begin this review. The difficulty arises partly from too few hours of sleep, partly from overcompensating for the fatigue with too much coffee, and partly from the emotional contortions this novel put me through. It has left me feeling limp and bruised, and completely ill equipped to write objectively.I say this with considerable respect for the novel, which was beautifully written: I both loved it and hated it at the same time. I found it compelling, I couldn’t put it down, and yet it was deeply, almost relentlessly, painful to read.The narrative opens with Holly unceremoniously losing her virginity to the popular Paul, someone she barely even knows, let alone likes. Her mother died six months ago, and Holly is numb, closed off to feeling.Strasnick’s prose is sparse and raw, and Holly’s numbness comes across clearly. Initially, there is something quite automaton about the way she narrates. She describes an afternoon run, listing the directions and streets by rote, as if anesthetizing herself with methodical attention to detail.As the story progresses, and Holly’s clandestine relationship with Paul triggers a series of choices that will irrevocably impact her life, it is as if Holly’s pain is bleeding out onto the paper. Strasnick tears away layers of Holly, exposing the unresolved grief and destructive thought patterns inside. While Holly has a certain hardness to her character, a streak of snark, the glimpses of her feelings of unworthiness are stomach-twisting to read.”Holly.” The way he kept saying my name over and over made me feel so totally small. “You’re not my girlfriend.”Watching Holly think and talk about herself was both real and horribly relatable, for me. Her inner dialogue of comparison to others (in particular, to Saskia), that they are more deserving of love, more deserving of happiness, was heartbreaking. It made me think of how, inevitably, we compare the insides of ourselves with the outsides of others. Holly initially sees Saskia as different, the perfect, blonde, willowy “other” - while in reality their lives could be reflections of the other, both fractured, and complex.In addition, there is a dark and unsettling undercurrent to the evolution of Paul and Holly’s relationship, which is intensely difficult read to at times. Yes, Holly does make poor choices. But this would hardly be a story about grief and pain and loss if she didn’t. I felt that Strasnick’s portrayal of a teenage girl, and her failure to deal with the death of her mother, was strikingly honest. It doesn’t make for pleasant reading. It is sad. It is hard to swallow. But I felt it did reflect the untidiness of real life. The way not all mistakes can be rectified. The powerful ramifications of small decisions.This story is undeniably heavy, for all its pared back, minimalist style. I connected with the book on a personal level, chest aching and tearing up through certain passages. And yet, I’m not sure how I feel about it. Conflicted, I guess, unable to decide to between loving it and not being able to bear it's brutal, bittersweet honesty.Ultimately, I have to admire the bravery and integrity with which Strasnick has written this lingering, difficult story.