Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Review: Without Tess by Marcella Pixley

Without Tess by Marcella Pixley
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Date Published: October 11, 2011
Rating: 5/5
Tess and Lizzie are sisters, sisters as close as can be, who share a secret world filled with selkies, flying horses, and a girl who can transform into a wolf  in the middle of the night. But when Lizzie is ready to grow up, Tess clings to their fantasies. As Tess sinks deeper and deeper into her delusions, she decides that she can’t live in the real world any longer and leaves Lizzie and her family forever. Now, years later, Lizzie is in high school and struggling to understand what happened to her sister. With the help of a school psychologist and Tess’s battered journal, Lizzie searches for a way to finally let Tess go.
I’d read a book or two in the past with a supposedly similar storyline. Younger sister looses queen bee older sister and younger sister is completely broken. Usually this means the younger sister has no self-confidence and left in a hero-worship position, unable to see her own strengths. And usually it gets a little DepressMe Street and whiny for my tastes. But I decided, hey, whatev, I’ll try this.

Wow. Rarely does a book have me put my foot in my mouth this much.
To say that this book was exquisitely beautiful would be to sort of hit the mark. I read this book in a matter of hours simply because I could NOT put it down. When I did, I was still caught in the strange, beautiful and demented world of Lizzie and Tess.

I am such a sucker for beautiful language and descriptions. On page 9, Pixley threw me headfirst into the fantasy world of the sisters, brimming with pure creativity and imagination. I was seduced immediately. She not only created a beautiful world for the sisters, but her reality was a thing awe as well. I like to say that a good books’ descriptions make me see the place, but here, I just didn’t see it, I was there. I could see the fading light on a rocky beach. Smell the rotting stench of dead crabs. Taste the salty crunch. Everything beautiful and disgusting from the Cohen sisters’ world. All of this is dotted with strangely and hauntingly Victorian-sounding poetry written by a dead 12-year-old girl.

Don’t mistake this book for something of childhood innocence. It was strongly reminiscent of Dia Reeves’ Slice of Cherry with the childish disassociation of reality and morality. Never for a second do you get the feeling that everything is perfect and wonderful in the lives of these young pre-teens. Like any good, morbid fairytale, there is something sick and demented creeping along with the carefree innocence that makes it just a hint of terrifying.
The story cuts back and forth between the past and the present. The present being where Lizzie has become a deeply guilted, bitterly sarcastic and ultimately realistic 15-year-old girl who converses with no one but her ever-patient therapist.

There aren’t many books that I read on the computer and I know I NEED to own, but I am pretty sure, I NEED to own this. It’s just that good and it’s use of language is immaculate. This is a very fast read, but I highly, highly recommend it. Especially if you’re a fan of Dia Reeves.


  1. i love an unreliable narrator like NO OTHER. thanks for the great review!

  2. This book sounds amazing! I love books with a strong Psychological aspect (and from what I understand, this book is dealing with childhood onset Schizophrenia) and I've been interested in this book. Your review has made me more so!

  3. I'm glad I wasn't the only one creeped out by Tess and her whole I'm immortal schtick.