Genre: Contemporary Romance, New Adult
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
I am torn between angry and heartbroken.
“My face. My body. My heart - it all went with her, because she was me.
My twin sister killed herself on June twenty-ninth.
We would've been eighteen the next day.”
You don't need to know anything else about Ryan's Bed except that it narrates the story of an eighteen year old girl, Mackenzie, and her life after the suicide of her twin sister. It shows how tremendous grief can tear a family apart, and how cruel and malicious teens can be in order to become popular. How a strange boy and his compassion can help pull yourself together after your world crumbles and, mainly, how not talking about what bothers you, and not sharing your sorrow, can be lethal. It does not glorify suicide, nor elaborates on the reasons why. It simply depicts the consequences to the ones left behind.
“Her name was Willow, and she left me.”
The theme Tijan chose is sensitive, but she treated it with the necessary respect. I can't even begin to understand what goes through a person's mind in order to take such an irrevocable decision, but I always thought that choosing to end your life is the easy way out. Since that sounds rather harsh, allow me to explain. Real life is full of struggles, burdens and obstacles. For example - and mind that I lead an easy life compared to the pain I witness daily - I can't count the times I've felt emotionally drained, or hurt and desperate, wondering when it'll finally stop. I can't count the times I've shut myself down, and alienated friends, because I craved isolation. All those times, the way out was simple; read a book or spend time with family, even though I was feeling particularly antisocial. Every person has a coping mechanism of their own, and yes, sometimes it may be really hard to find one, but there's always another way out. Something or someone worth fighting for. Being a teenager, like Willow, is harder, since it's the epitome of drama; first loves, image problems, popularity, high grades etc. But when you're a teenager, sometimes you forget that you have the whole world at your feet, endless possibilities and roads, and -if not all of them- at least a great number depends solely on you. How can you throw your life away? How can you be so selfish that you numb your own pain by destroying the lives of the ones who love you? Because let's face it, it's not only the life of one person that ends with a suicide. It's the mother, the father, the sibling, the spouse, the friend who has to deal with your absence, with the question whether they were not enough to keep you with them, who go on with a hole in their chests that will never heal. What I'm saying? I'm angry at Willow, for what she threw away and the damage she inflicted to her loved ones. But I'm also mad at her parents who put their own grief above their own child, and stopped being parents. I am angry at those horrible high-school girls who were willing to take advantage of such a delicate and raw wound in order to achieve their petty purposes. And I am angry at Mackenzie, for ignoring the pain and doing stuff out of character because she couldn't care or because she wanted to feel something, anything.
I am also sad. Tijan depicted with raw clarity Mackenzie's trauma, and I was constantly swallowed by her darkness and despair. There were times I closed the book, and was in such a foul mood that I couldn't stand being around people, because of the darkness and the ache in my heart. And partially, that's the reason I rated Ryan's Bed with 3.5 stars. As contradictory as it may sound, I wanted to finish it because I wanted to breathe again. To shove away the burden of Mackenzie's grief. And that's when I realized that if I, a reader, couldn't handle the sorrow, then it was unfair to stay mad at Mackenzie for trying to survive, to make the day, using any means necessary.
In this different and consuming story, Ryan's role and his whole relationship with Mackenzie was an oasis. The refreshing thing about them was that there were zero misunderstandings. Ryan was always there, supporting Mackenzie, giving her what she needed. And it was a deeply satisfying sentiment, witnessing the kind side of humankind. He was sweet, caring and thoughtful, the only one who didn't shy away from Mackenzie's mood swings and breakdowns. He was her haven, and they created something beautiful out of the ugliness of loss.
Family relationships were thoroughly explored, and the high-school drama spiced things up but also helped, in its own, twisted way, Mackenzie's journey to acceptance. She was resilient, a survivor, a source of strength for those around her. And Ryan was hers.
Ryan's Bed was a meaningful, powerful and sweet novel, but I don't think I'd be able to read it again. A catchy closing line, though, is not the one I'm using this time. If you feel trapped, TALK. If you feel incompetent, TALK. Your life matters, and there's always, always someone whose reality is beautiful thanks to YOU. You're not the only one who hurts, find your own source of strength, and STAY ALIVE, for your family, and yourself.
*ARC generously provided by the author via Nina Bocci in exchange for an honest review*