Author: Donna Freitas
Genre: Contemporary YA
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Published on: October 11, 2011
Challenge: Completely Contemporary Challenge
Summary: When Rose’s mom dies, she leaves behind a brown paper bag labeled Rose’s Survival Kit. Inside the bag, Rose finds an iPod, with a to-be-determined playlist; a picture of peonies, for growing; a crystal heart, for loving; a paper star, for making a wish; and a paper kite, for letting go.
As Rose ponders the meaning of each item, she finds herself returning again and again to an unexpected source of comfort. Will is her family’s gardener, the school hockey star, and the only person who really understands what she’s going through. Can loss lead to love?
One day soon I’m going to read one too many books about grieving and cancer, and it’s going to push me over the edge, guys. It seems like there have been an abundance of these books lately! But if I’m being honest, while reading so much about death and dying *is* depressing and I seriously will need to back off from it a little for my own emotional stability, I actually find these kinds of books–when they’re good–to be largely the opposite: touching, thoughtful, and full of life. THE SURVIVAL KIT is exactly that. Because it takes place after the death of Rose’s mom, we’re not reading about the actual act of dying (as AWESOMELY done in THE PROBABILITY OF MIRACLES), but rather the lives that must continue with heavy hearts and under a cloud of sadness. Grieving with Rose and her family was certainly heartbreaking, but mostly I found it to be really special and lovely and full of life-affirming moments. Also, swoony with lots of kissing. *THUMBS UP*
There were so many things to LOVE about THE SURVIVAL KIT, and I have to start with Rosey girl. She was so incredible! Her grief felt very real, and her reactions to the things in her life were believable. I kind of loved that she shut herself off and couldn’t find the same joy in the things that used to make her happy. That’s such a real part of grieving, and it led Rose to seek out the things SHE wanted for herself instead of what she thought other people wanted of her. ❤
Rose was strong and reliable, but also broken and confused and DEVASTATED. I felt so sad for her that she was left to take care of her obviously distraught father. (Somehow, I couldn’t work up any bad feelings for him. He just made me want to give him ALL THE HUGS.) As the book progresses and we get to see some glimpses of the “old” Rose, I swear my heart felt lighter. She was fun and spontaneous and humorous and AWESOME!! And so much of this new/old Rose came not only from the girl herself, but from the HEAPS of WONDERFUL people around her.
Guys. I LOVED so much that there are no mean people in this book!! There’s no mean girls. No tools. Not even her ex-boyfriend Chris, who honestly and truly was a great guy who was there for Rose when she needed him most. This is AMAZING!!! Her friends–especially her bff, Krupa–were FABULOUS and they deserve THE CAPS. They were supportive and patient while still pushing Rose to step out from her grief in little baby steps. And I cannot–CANNOT–talk about awesome people without stressing one of my absolute favorite YA plot devices that touches my heart and makes me stupid happy: siblings who TOTALLY LOVE EACH OTHER, particularly big brother’s who melt my heart and make me squee. Rose’s brother, Jim…I crushed on him. I pretended that he was older so that I could do so without feeling gross about myself (he IS legal though). He called her to see if she was ok and wished he could be home to help her (he’s away at college). They said “I love you” all the time. They cried together, grieved together, and supported each other (emotionally, certainly, if not always in a literal, “I am physically present” kind of way). When they fought it was legit and upsetting, but they came out of it together. It was gorgeous. *Sigh* (I did literally just sigh out loud.)
SPEAKING OF CRUSHING, Will Doniger is one of those guys who’s impossible NOT to love. It’s clear from the beginning that he’s just as tortured and wary of being around people as Rose. But it’s also obvious that he feels things deeply and intensely and is completely WONDERFUL. There’s a little hiccup in there, but it’s not without reason, and I was so thankful for Rose that she had this incredibly sweet, sensitive, surprising, lovable guy to help her not only come out of her grief little by little, but to also serve as the catalyst in her completion of the Survival Kit her mother left for her to find. Their relationship was slow and smoldery and adorable. I LOVED them.
THE SURVIVAL KIT was touching and heartfelt. Sad, but also not. I loved the idea of the Survival Kits that Rose’s mom made; it’s such a nice sentiment, and I loved that it was a theme throughout this whole book. I might start making them for people myself. Seeing Rose slowly understand what each item in her Survival Kit meant was special. The people around her weren’t perfect but they were all exactly the people Rose needed to help her out of the worst of her grief. This story, like so many others of its kind, shows how intertwined grief and love really are. And if the “love” is going to be anything like Will Doniger? There’s little chance of that raw sadness hanging around very long. THE SURVIVAL KIT was bee-you-tee-ful.