The Shattering, Karen Healey

I haven’t noticed that I do this as much as an adult, but when I was a kid, and reading a completely engrossing book, I would often find myself, at the end of a chapter, with my face pressed against the pages. It was like I was trying to physically force the words into my body as fast and as hard as was humanly possible. Although I’m sure it’s happened many times since then, I can only clearly remember two occasions in recent history – the first time I read Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, and yesterday, when I read Karen Healey’s The Shattering.

This is another one of John Scalzi’s “Big Idea” recommended reads (whatever.scalzi.com), and it’s been on the kindle queue for at least two months. I’ve put off reading it because I knew it was a story about a girl whose older brother committed suicide – not exactly the light holiday reading I had been planning on. The protagonist, Keri, is an anxious child growing up to be an anxious woman dealing with a tragedy that she hasn’t figured out how to prepare for:

….it just seemed a good idea to be prepared. I hung a go-bag on my door in case of a fire or an earthquake and put a mini first-aid kit in my backpack, and I rehearsed possible disasters in my head, over and over, until I was sure I knew how to react.

I knew it sounded a little bit crazy, and I stopped telling anyone about it when Hemi Koroheke called me creepy and, with smug emphasis, neurotic, which was our Year Eight Word of the Day. But I did it anyway. I had plans for what eulogy to give if both my parents were hit by a car, how to escape or attract help if I were kidnapped, and how to survive if I were lost in the bush. It wasn’t as if I thought all these things were likely to happen. But I knew they could, and if they did, I wanted to be ready. In the end, it didn’t do me any good. Because I didn’t have a plan for what to do if my older brother put Dad’s shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger with his toes. 

My mistake. (pg 2-3)

Seeing myself so clearly written across the page was disturbing. My older brother is alive and well, thank goodness, but I don’t know how many times I have done what Keri has – tried to beat back the absolute worst, most terrifying unknowns with careful planning.

Three years ago, at Christmas, I was shopping with my mother at Barnes and Noble. She was looking for a book for my sister-in-law, something with vampires, I believe, in the YA section. I was teaching preschool at the time and had wandered into the parenting section to browse. When my mother came to find me, I was reading the first chapter of a book called How to Raise Your Anxious Child, and I jokingly told her she should have read this before she had either of her children.

Honestly though, I was intrigued – others are out there, I thought, others with these hidden, irrational fears? Of course they are, because none of us are actually alone in our crazy. Each of our crazy is, if not universal, at least shared with some portion of the population. In The Shattering, Healey does a subtly wonderful job of taking my worst nightmare and turning it into a book I wanted to force into my skin.

This is a novel I wish had been written about fifteen years ago. I think I might have become a slightly different person if I had read it then – if I had been forcefully reminded that there’s no way to hold on so tight to the things you hope will never change. That there is no way to be good enough, polite enough, or strong enough to keep bad things from happening. The real story is in how you choose to handle the bad things when they inevitable come…

Check out Karen Healey’s blog and other books at karenhealey.com

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