Initial reaction: So, for the record: this was a huge improvement over "Tumble and Fall" in my opinion. Even with a story over such a difficult subject and the potential for connections, there were times when this book had me and other times it lost me. I think Tamsen's insecurities and feelings of loss were palpable, and certainly it wasn't an easy spell considering what she'd been through, but there were other things about this narrative that just didn't sit that well with me. I'm going to give myself a little bit to meditate on it and then write my full review, but it won't be posted here until closer to the book's release.
"Young Widows Club" is definitely a book I've never come across in the scheme of YA before, and by the very nature of it, it's a unique premise and something worth reading about. But it's also a touchy topic because...it showcases a teen who marries very young, her new husband, Noah, unexpectedly dies in his sleep, and leaves her behind grapping with both her grief and wondering what to do with her life in the aftermath. I struggled with Coutts's last narrative because of a startling lack of intimacy with the character experiences and gravity for the scenario, but this book did marginally better with showing Tamsen's experiences and adjusting to so much change after the loss of her husband. (Notice I say "marginally" - more on that in a little bit.)
I really appreciated the focus on the grief group and Tamsen's coming to terms even while moving back home with her father and stepmother (which set up an interesting parallel because Tamsen's father married young, and her mother also passed away unexpectedly). Noah's parents are also involved in Tam's life, because they were helping Tam and Noah build a house for themselves. She returns to school reluctantly, but also tries to manage Noah's former band and finds that so much has changed since Noah's no longer part of the band that it gives her a significant amount of grief. And I'll admit, I felt for Tam because of the nature of her loss had not only changed her, but things around her. There's a caveat to this though - I feel like on one hand, Tam's narrative voice still felt at an odd distance. On the other, she's naturally humored and tries to pass off her grief with a distance in her humor. Realistic yes, but the narrative still felt like it didn't give an intimate eye to some of her experiences. Even Tam's memories of Noah were shortchanged and while I could feel her loss and coping, I couldn't fully connect with her relationship with Noah because of the way this narrative chose to narrate that part of her life.
The other thing that bothered me in this narrative was that I couldn't ship the "shipped" relationship here at all. She's 17, the second LI is 26 - that's a huge age gap. Granted, I'm not going to say that aspect isn't realistic because Tamsen's experiences had her mature very quickly in the grander scheme of things. I could also accept - to some degree - that her meeting someone in her grief group whom she connected with was plausible.
But dude, I still didn't really *get* the relationship between Tam and Colin. Colin - at first - seemed to be a nice guy, and I figured "Okay, maybe they'll have a point of connection because they unexpectedly lost someone and maybe be lifelong friends. I've even seen this happen with people in my personal circles, even one where the age gap was just over 10 years." But in this narrative, the overt shipping just didn't...work. Or feel acceptable to me for that matter. It felt awkward, even borderline creepy at times based on Colin's actions. I don't think the narrative treated it realistically. Considering also this is a YA book and not an adult book - you have to be careful about how you portray these kinds of relationships with your audience in mind. If this were an adult novel, and more vetted out with the relationship history, backgrounds, and coming to terms, I'd probably be more likely to see through it without judgment, but there was so much about this narrative that felt lacking despite bringing a different topic, even one in its nature controversial, to the table.
It's a mixed bag of a story for handling and portrayal, so I felt on the fence about it. I definitely appreciated the eye to Tamsen's grief and how it showed her moving forward in the aftermath of Noah's death while grappling with changes in her life and relationships, but there's so much working against it for lack of background, sensitivity to the relationships and mindfulness in how such tough subject come across, that I feel like the narrative didn't completely sell me on everything it was trying to do.
But at least this narrative makes me want to see what else Coutts has up her sleeve storywise.
Overall score: 3/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher.