It often takes me quite a while before I get into a book, but the utterly compelling central character in this one sucked me right in. The writing flowed so well that I was deeply immersed in the story before I knew it.
The novel is told from the point of view of Dane, a senior in high school, who is overcome with grief after the death of his father from cancer one year prior. To add insult to injury, his mother began dating his father’s former business partner and best friend Chuck shortly after the funeral, which Dane sees as not only disrespecting his father but also her forgetting him and moving on.
Additionally, Chuck’s “evil” son, Eric, seems to delight in tormenting Dane. To help him deal with his depression (and his new family dynamic), his mother has shuffled him through a plethora of therapists, most of whom have proven ineffective.
Dane is also infatuated with Ophelia, the girl next door who he believes is way out of his league. This is despite the fact that she seems to be regularly dropping odd, almost flirtatious hints that only manage to confuse him further.
What we end up with then is an in-depth character study of a complex young man who has a difficult time coping with life and communicating with the people who are close to him. In the process, he is searching for answers to some pretty tough questions while trying to maintain his sanity through it all. Through that process, the novel examines some pretty hard-hitting themes such as grief, depression, suicide, first love, relating to others, lack of parental support, insecurity, and the meaning of life. It also looks at the pain, difficulty, and at times, anguish in simply growing up.
Though there are certainly some dark and weighty topics in the novel, the author does a brilliant job of balancing them out with plenty of humor, wit, and banter. Dane is quite a sarcastic and amusing character, and I enjoyed getting to know him as the story progressed. His comments caused me to cackle out loud on more than a few occasions. I especially loved seeing his transformation from heartbroken and overwhelmed to stepping up and taking control of his life.
But at its core, this is an intense coming-of-age story about grief and figuring out how to cope. In this way, it ends up being poignant and heart-wrenching in many places. Simultaneously heartbreaking and heart-mending, The Tragedy of Dane Riley is a poignant tale about finding oneself in the midst of chaos. This gem of a story is as thought-provoking and hopeful as it is emotional and sobering, and I enjoyed every single moment. I’ll definitely read more by this author.
A huge thank you to Netgalley & Wednesday Books for providing a review copy of this book.