Jody Casella's "Thin Space" is a story of loss and grief. Be prepared to bring out the tissue box, because it's not without moments that kick one at their core. For me, this was a personal read because it talks about a character who experiences the loss of their twin. As a fraternal twin myself, I couldn't imagine losing my sister in any measure. She's been a part of my life for almost 30 years. She's my best friend and maybe even more than I can explain in mere words. I knew going into this novel that it was probably going to resonate with me on the subject matter in itself, but I honestly had no idea how much. Nor did I realize just how well the story came across on its own terms.
Marsh lost his identical twin Austin three months before this story takes off, from a terrible car crash that left him and his family broken in more ways than one. For Marsh, it's like he's lost a part of himself, and he wanders between desperation, depression, anger, identity issues, and wondering what his life measures up to. All sentiments I could feel for in the spectrum of the story. But there's a bit of a catch to this. Marsh believes he can find a way to reach his brother again, through a Celtic legend that was told to him by a neighbor who passed on as well. He has to find a "thin space" - a link between the world of the living and the world of the dead. He believes it's the only way to reach his brother one last time. His neighbor told him that one of the ways to reach the world is to find the space and walk barefoot into it. So Marsh tries to find a "thin space" everywhere he can possibly go, even walking barefoot on pavement, through snow, and other areas. Sometimes even to the point where his feet are raw.
Suffice to say, people around him think he's crazy. Either that or in such a state of grief, they don't know what to do with him.
Marsh finds himself compromised to a point when he realizes a new family's moving into his deceased neighbor's house. The daughter of that family, Maddie, ends up in his company and the two have a complicated relationship of hidden truths and understanding of grief while Marsh continues his search for a thin space. But there are other factors to consider, such as the fact that Marsh is neglecting his old girlfriend, crossing boundaries with Maddie's brother in the mix, and acting up in school where he'd previously been a good student, even where he used to be on the football team, but fell out of it.
Maddie makes an unlikely union with Marsh to find a thin space, while also wanting to use it for her own aims. The two eventually find it, but both receive answers that they did not bargain for in the measure of things, and it's a coming of terms that really hits home.
I think after a point, I suspected the end point of this story, but it still managed to shock me with the reveal. It was very well done, and a nice punctuation of grief that straddles the realistic and the supernatural, though very light on the latter. The ending comes across as something of a new beginning, a coming of terms, and a realization of grief from something that Marsh can't run from anymore. It's clear, from the encounter that comes with Marsh finding his brother in the thin space, that he has to come to terms with the reality, and progress from there.
I'll admit this story made me shed tears when it was all over. It hit that far home with me, and I'd certainly applaud Casella for weaving an important tale like this so well, for its contemporary elements as well as its punctuation on grief and the ways that a boy copes with losing his identity, in more ways than one.
Overall score: 4.5/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Simon Pulse.