This 2012 YA book is a short, fast, realistic read—only 277 pages. But it’s long on emotion. Joyce Carol Oates, Two or Three Things I Forgot to Tell You, forces you to think and feel deeply about family and friendship—for me, I was touched more by this story than by any of the vampire, werewolf, zombie stories crowding the YA bookseller’s shelves.
High school seniors Merissa and Nadia and Tink navigate their turbulent teen years with the added complication of self-serving, dysfunctional parents, but attempt to cope in startlingly different ways. Merissa is a daddy-doting, high-achieving, cutting, anorexic who fantasizes about committing suicide to escape, while Nadia, chronically naïve and people-pleasing, escapes into a fantasy relationship with her science teacher, Mr. Kessler. You can imagine how that goes…
When eccentric tomboy child-actress Tink Traumer, founding member of their clique, Tink Inc., leaves them in an apparent suicide, Merissa and Nadia’s lives unravel to the very fringe of sanity. But does Tink really ever leave them? Her presence in their lives is felt in such a strong way–is it supernatural or paranormal or just the product of their active imaginiations? Oates leaves you to guess at this–and at times, this felt presence is exactly what they need to deal with their reality.
This book is not for the faint of heart or those who feel more comfortable in the relatively safe YA fantasy world. While Oates uses thin disguises for words that resonate throughout every American public high school, she doesn’t sugarcoat the dialogue or the issues. Divorce, stepparents, verbal abuse and the enabling of that abuse, high performance expectations and the strain these put on our young adults is all around us. The subject matter is abrasive in its honesty. You feel for these characters immediately and the choices they sometimes make are disturbing, but recognizably pervasive in our schools and homes.
If you have a teenage daughter, you will want to remind her again and again how precious she is to you. Make sure there aren’t two or three or four things she’s forgetting to tell you. Sophie?
If you are a teenager, you will recognize people you know or parts of people you know in Merissa and Nadia. Think of them tenderly and treat them gently. We are all flawed and trying to find our way in a beautiful, flawed world.
Older young adults will recognize Joyce Carol Oates from the plethora of books she’s written as well as awards. I’ve enjoyed several of her best-selling adult books and was pleased to see that her proficient writing skill spills over into her YA efforts.