Thursday, February 2, 2012

Review: The Survival Kit by Donna Freitas

The Survival Kit by Donna Freitas is one of those tear-jerker books that you can rank up there with Lurlene McDaniel in terms of wanting to cry. At least, for me the comparison is apt because I definitely shed some tears in this book.

Synopsis: 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?  (

I really like the idea of the Survival Kit. I'd actually love to be able to do this for a fun programming opportunity if I could find a way without making it too depressing for anyone. It's a nice way to dig into a project with positive results at the end, a way to make someone smile. Rose's Survival Kit is a definite mystery to her at first. She is locked in a well of grief and it is hard to see her way out, particularly when her dad is drinking hard and when her brother is away at college. She faces a certain solitude in the grief experience that everyone has to go through but her experience seems particularly lonely at points.

I really liked Rose. She is definitely sad but I didn't feel like she was wallowing in her grief or letting it ruin her life or take over. She had her moments of course (and who wouldn't after losing a parent?) but she also was trying find a way to cope. She also didn't totally cut out all her friends from her life. She had a great friend, Krupa, who was a highlight of the story. At times, I will admit their friendship felt a bit one-sided, like Rose was getting all the benefits from having Krupa as a friend but then when I least expected it, Rose did a good job of showing Krupa how thankful she was for her friendship in the aftermath of her mom's death. This was a really nice friendship that was marked by laughter and tears but it felt so honest and real. There was no unnecessary drama in their friendship and it just felt like a relationship that would survive high school and beyond which is kind of nice.

There is a romance in this book. In fact, there is the ending of a romantic relationship and the beginning of a new relationship. I was very torn on Will, Rose's new relationship guy. He had some great shining moments when he really helped her through her pain but there was such a pivotal time when he let her down that I had a hard time finding it in me to forgive him, as the reader. No matter what his excuses were, I just was not going to buy it as easily as Rose does. Also, at times I felt like their evolving relationship was overshadowing Rose's character growth as her own person, as her own young woman. I was a little alarmed at how much she came to rely on him to help her forget her grief, to try to heal. While I don't think she should have gone it alone by any means, sometimes the healing process became less somehow when it was in conjunction with her relationship with Will. And I did like Will, I did. But I wanted more for Rose.

That being said, I loved the hockey portion of the book. I'm an avid hockey fan. It's one of the few sports I can handle watching and I liked the excitement that Rose and her friends felt while attending hockey games. This dates me sadly but I loved attending my high school hockey games as a teen too and it was a great bonding experience, much like Rose and her friends were doing together.

This is a very girl-centric story. Rose's emotional arc is engaging and it represents an experience that hopefully not many teen readers will ever have to go through. Readers who like sad stories (with hope!) will enjoy The Survival Kit. Donna Freitas has a great way of digging into the grief process and Rose is a character readers will identify with. Rose's character arc is not without it's problems but there is so much to like about this story that most readers will find that a minor quibble.

Other reviews:
Steph Su Reads reviews The Survival Kit
The Reclusive Bibliophile reviews The Survival Kit
The Allure of Books reviews The Survival Kit

Reviewed from public library copy.


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