C.K. Kelly Martin, who's written several marvelous young adult novels, couldn't find a traditional publisher for her first book for adults, Come See About Me.
According to Martin, no one knew how to market a novel with a 20 year old protagonist. Come See About Me certainly isn't a teen novel, it's mature and addresses themes that are not seen in the YA category. And since "Adult" fiction typically features older narrators, not a recent college dropout, it couldn't be marketed as "Adult." Essentially, a marketing problem prevented this novel from hitting bookstore shelves. This is absolutely perplexing to me.
Luckily for us, Martin couldn't keep to herself the story of Leah, a young woman who's life has wholly stalled following the death of her boyfriend, Bastien, who was killed while crossing the street in Toronto. She flakes on her job, fails out of school, hides from her friends and family--she can't move forward because of the loss. She wants to be alone with her memories and sadness over what should have been, over their lost future together.
The early chapters, in which Leah recounts her relationship with Bastien, were incredibly difficult for me to read. The two went to high school in British Columbia together, though they weren't even friends--acquaintances is a better description--and connected later, when they both went to college in Toronto. Their love was the forever sort, not the college dating temporary sort.
I found myself absolutely gutted by Leah's devastation at losing Bastien. While I'm an admitted book crier (oddly, I rarely cry in movies and TV shows, with the exception of Friday Night Lights reruns), I became choked up and teary at nearly every paragraph in the first chapters of Come See About Me. This is a testament to the realism and craft of Martin's writing. I met my husband when I was Leah's age, and her reflections on the early days of their relationship very relatable on a personal level. I felt an increasingly sick feeling for Leah during those first chapters detailing her life post-Bastien, thinking of how unimaginably unbearable a situation like hers would be, particularly with everyone's expectations being that she "move on," because she is so young and has her whole future in front of her. This is wholly, understandably, inconceivable to Leah.
On the verge of losing her apartment, which she shared with Bastien and doesn't want to give up because of the memories alive in that space, Leah is rescued by Bastien's aunt who gives her a feel place to live in Oakville, a Toronto suburb with a village-like quality. Initially, Leah maintains her same routine: hiding from the world, paralyzed by the loss of Bastien. However, a dental emergency necessitates her finding a part-time job and a repeated chance encounters with Liam, an Irish actor from a Fair City-style television show, who's hiding from his own life that disintegrated in a very public manner back home in Dublin, slowly draws Leah out of her reclusion.
Lest I've given the impression that Come See About Me is about moving on, finding a new love or anything like that, it's absolutely not. Rather, Come See About Me is about Leah finding a new way to be, of finding hope and a new way forward, different from the future she'd imagined prior to her boyfriend's death. Her relationship with Bastien was special, so when she starts a casual sexual relationship with Liam (not a spoiler--this is in the blurb on Martin's website), Leah feels like she's cheating on Bastien. Not his memory, but him.
Leah and Liam's relationship is extremely close, and yet, they both keep their distance too. Neither is ready for a "real" relationship, and yet what happens between them feels very real to Leah. They both need intimacy after isolating themselves so intensely, but it's hard for them too. It could seem lurid or trashy that there's significant amount of page time devoted to the pair's hookups, but it's not at all. It's actually oddly sweet. (And, um... steamy. Not in a gratuitious way, though. In her Goodreads review, Kelly from Stacked used the word "sexy" to describe Come See About Me and I think that's a very apt way of saying it--which is also very unexpected for a novel dealing with this subject.) Interspersed are moments between Leah and Liam of real emotional connection and longing--longing for more.
I loved the arc of Leah's character. It's hard to say much without spoilage, but I found her path and resolution to be very realistic and believable, but also very satisfying--it was worth becoming emotionally invested in her story, as hard as it was at some points. I find this characterizes of all of C.K. Kelly Martin's novels (or at least all of them I've read--I have an ARC of Yesterday, but haven't gotten to it yet.)
But, I also felt for Liam as well, and wanted him to be okay. Come See About Me is Leah's story, and it's told from her first person point-of-view. However, Liam is simultaneously charming and maddening, because he's not in an emotional place much better than where Leah is--I wanted him to be able to do more for her, but he couldn't and that wouldn't have been realistic, nor would Come See About Me have been as good of novel at it is if he had. And yet his humor and (very Irish) dialogue at moments prevents Come See About Me from spiralling into a depressing read.
Also, Liam is dead sexy, if that's the sort of thing that matters to you. Ahem.
The secondary characters also made Come See About Me memorable and satisfying.Try not to pass out from the shock, but there are actual, diverse characters in this novel. And they're not just present to be The Diverse Characters, but instead they all make sense in the context of the story and are a realistic reflection of modern society. I know, right? More of this please.
When I love, love a book, I become a psychotic book pusher, trying to get everyone to read said book. Come See About Me is definitely one that brought on Book Psychosis Syndrome. I really, really enjoy C.K. Kelly Martin's YA novels. Her writing is very special, it's real and raw and authentic, but her skill with telling a story that makes you feel all the things right along with the narrator is so, so, so much more pronounced with the freedom that comes along with writing for an adult audience. While I know the self-publishing route is a tough one, I hope that Come See About Me has some success so that we'll maybe see more adult fiction from Martin--it's just that wonderful.
Come See About Me is the sort of contemporary adult fiction I'm always wanting to read, but what doesn't seem to exist in the marketplace. That absence is what drives me to YA when I want a contemporary read. It's an adult novel that deals with emotions and growth and connection--not with divorce, money problems, infertility, parenting or what it means to be human. There's zero pretention in Martin's writing, instead, it's simply real, with raw emotion and a thread of hope shining through in a story that lingers. One of my favorite books of the year, hands-down.