Come Back to Me is a YA novel told from the perspective of eighteen-year-old Whitney Denison who is sucked into a world wind of grief after her ex-best friend dies. There are many novels which deal with the issue of grief and Coleen Patrick’s debut falls into this pack; offering a realistic interpretation of the life of a teenager who is unable to move forward even months after her friend’s death.
I had a love/hate relationship with Whitney as a narrator. I enjoyed the opening of the novel and the charismatic thoughts she had whilst being a resident of the rehab clinic Gosley. However, after her release she seemed to lose this spark within her characterisation and the novel became consumed with her sadness as she tried to work out her past.
I had a problem with the plot as even though it was realistic by the fact that not much action occurs in a teenager’s life, in a novel you do need a gripping motivation within the plot and Come Back to Me lacked this. You would find yourself sadly skimming over pages waiting for action to appear as most of the novel was composed of solely Whitney’s thoughts.
An example of this was when Whitney was hoping to unlock the memories of a scrabble game on the night of graduation. The reader already knows that discovering this memory will not help Whitney to have this epithinay she is searching for. The author also knows this herself, having Kyle say to Whitney: “Why do you keep talking about that ******* Scrabble thing?” We understand Coleen Patrick is using this relentless quizzing for a reason, but this continuous mention of scrabble did become frustrating.
Also, her ex-best friend Katie didn’t seem to be the nicest of dead characters herself. She was a control freak who appeared mean in both her public and in her private life. At one point Whitney returns to Katie’s home and meets Irina their housemaid. Irina unveils a secret about Katie which stirs Whitney into an over-the-top rage, stating: “The guilt inside me shattered, replaced by anger as I realized our friendship was as fake as everything we hated.” This, to me, is too overdramatic and cliqued and not how you would truly feel after a friend’s death. This secret is the one flaw which makes Katie appear more human, but Whitney can’t understand this so feels fury towards Katie and this passion flimsily disintegrates after a while.
In the last fifty pages of the book all the small conclusions of her life start to piece together. These climaxes are not that ambitious, but they help to set the tone right in Whitney working out what she is going to do with her life. She realises it is still possible for her to live and stop being so scared of death. When her mother talks about the 100 Things to Do before You Die book, I thought this would make Whitney choose to go travelling. This doesn’t transpire. It is these little moments where Whitney has an opportunity for adventure and passes it down which is irritating for the reader.
Of course Whitney is also dealing with the fact that she is an alcoholic. This is shown right from the start when she is at the clinic and it is why she can’t remember that ‘fateful’ scrabble game. Other than alcoholism contributing to her fragile state of mind, there isn’t a great revelation in the end about the importance of this addiction, how it began and how she was managing to resist falling back into the trap.
Despite these critiques about the plot, I do believe Come Back to Me triumphs through its realistic portrayal of grief. Whitney is a character who falls into isolation, who volunteers at a TEA café and eventually meets a guy she can talk with. These mundane events and contrasting ideas will occur for someone her age who is faced with such a dilemma as a friend’s death. Patrick’s debut novel is a fascinating look at grief, however it failed to hold my interest through the middle of the story.