Title: Past Tense
Author: Star Spider
Genre: Young Adult, LGBTQ+
Date of Publication: April 10, 2018
Julie Nolan is just another teenager who’s madly in love with her best friend, Lorelei. She’s obsessed with her and spends a lot of time hunting down the perfect opportunity to come out and profess her undying love. Once she does, she knows in her heart that Lorelei will reciprocate this love and they will live happily ever after. But Julie’s home life is getting in the way with her grand plans. Her mother, who just gave birth to Julie’s younger brother, has started to act strangely. Her mother has become meek and muted. At night she takes Julie to the graveyard, where she asks Julie to bury her and give a eulogy. She’s nothing like the vibrant, full-of-life person she once was. She’s convinced that she doesn’t have a heartbeat, that she isn’t breathing, that she’s dead.
At first Julie’s singular obsession with her best friend was a tad tedious. But do you remember when you were that age? A crush, or “being in love” would often demand all of your attention. Star Spider does a fabulous job of replicating the teenage experience, and manages to craft Julie into a three-dimensional character. Sure, she’s obsessed with her best friend, but she has other personality traits that she demonstrates and gets to develop over the course of the novel. She shows compassion for her teacher who she thinks is in love with her. She demonstrates maturity and a deep love and concern for her infant brother when her mother starts to act strange.
This brings me to the title. “Past Tense”. How clever! At the graveyard, Julie’s mother asks her to give a eulogy. She corrects her when she starts – saying that it has to be in past tense. “Past Tense” aptly describes all the themes in this book. Julie is evolving into a new person, and by the end, she’s nothing like the person she was in the beginning of the book.
As the novel progresses, Julie starts to develop more self-awareness. There’s an event that’s a turning point for Julie, but her evolution is gradual and beautifully conceived. Julie becomes able to evaluate her relationship with her best friend. She develops a friendship with a boy in her school, Henry. It’s refreshing to see that her new relationship isn’t insta-love, like what she had with Lorelei. Julie has grown and evolved into a person who can see beyond looks and superficial charm, and she develops a true connection at a deeper level. This self-realization is also demonstrated in her relationship with her mother. While giving the eulogy for her mother, she says that her mother was “wonderful”. Julie ruminates over this term, the shallowness of it, and how she should be able to probe deeper. If nothing else, when Julie’s mother truly does die, Julie will be able to give a fabulous eulogy.
Julie’s relationship with her mother is fascinating. From the beginning of the book, her mom is already suffering from some sort of mental illness, yet we know that Julie and her mother were very close before the events of this book begin. Instead of just telling us that they were close, Star Spider demonstrates this with absolutely heart-wrenching little anecdotes at the beginning of each chapter. They’re short, yet powerfully demonstrative of the relationship they once had. In the past, her mother was dynamic and full of life and absolutely attentive to her daughter, which makes it even more painfully obvious that she’s suffering in the present.
I particularly loved the parallels between the two prominent plotlines in this story. The storyline of her best friend and what’s going on with her mother intersects quite beautifully with a life lesson that we all should learn. (Spoilers are between the glasses!)
Julie learns that sometimes the best thing you can do is to ignore the wishes of the person you want to help. Being brave sometimes requires a simple telling of the truth. Sure, she’ll never run into a fire to save a life (like her mother did), but she can still have an incredible impact on the lives around her.
She tells her father about what her mother is going through, which helps her to get the medical treatment she needs. She tells another teacher about Lorelei’s highly-disgusting relationship with the teacher. By the end of the novel Julie is glad with the decisions she’s made, and she has no guilt or regrets.
This is a fast-paced, easy-to-read book recommended to young adults (and adults!) of all ages. While it deals with some intense themes, the book itself isn’t too dark. The end is uplifting, which makes all the feelings that you had while reading worthwhile.
*I received a copy of this ARC from HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review.*
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