By Julie Buntin
Henry Holt & Company, 2017
I was completely captivated by Marlena, a story of two teenage girls. 15-year old Cat and 17-year old Marlena meet when Cat’s parents split up and Cat’s mom moves Cat and her brother from the Detroit suburbs to a desolate town in the Upper Peninsula. Marlena lives in the house next door with her father and younger brother.
The book alternates between the year the two girls were friends that tragically ends in Marlena’s death, and Cat’s adult life in New York looking back. Buntin artfully captures the way teenage girls become entranced by each other. Cat has just finished a successful first year of high school, but is lost in her new town. Marlena is a beautiful young woman with many self-destructive habits. With Marlena, Cat’s life is transformed.
Told in the first person, Cat’s perspective, I appreciated how honest the narrator was and the depth with which she explores how teenage rebellion can be self destructive and empowering at the same time. The girls escape their small town with drugs, for Marlena, and drink, for Cat, and their habits have consequences. It’s not easy to watch them anesthetize themselves but powerful nonetheless. If you are interested in female coming-of-age stories, this book is a unique look into a community I have not read about much in fiction.
Buntin grew up in Michigan and teaches writing now in New York City.