Thursday, April 06, 2017

Half in Love With Easeful Death: But Then I Came Back. by Estelle Laure

So I must be dead.

I'm nowhere, in blank space, surrounded by white.

An inky, velvet bud sprouts from the lines in the palm of my pale hand. As it unfurls, its onyx petals undulate and float in front of me, as if there is no gravity.

The Eden Jones of me zips and buckles like a straitjacket as the flower floats from my palm and disappears.

Finally, my Lucille speaks. "Wake up, Eden," she says. "You are going to wake up."

Beeps. Tubes everywhere. I'm pinned by a matrix of machines.

Coming back from a coma is not easy. Since she fell into the river and almost drowned, Eden has been technically unconscious for a month, but even when she wakes up to her life, something of the consciousness of that time between remains. As she learns to speak and walk and eat again, a memory of that time, the In-Between, stays with her, especially the waking dream of those black flowers, their falling petals, stays with her. As she recovers, Eden is drawn to the other coma patient, a girl her age named Jasmine, and a boy named Joe who often sits with her, a boy who sends Eden white roses with a card that says Me and Jaz want you to come back.

Even when Eden goes home and tries to ease back into school and family life, she still feels a sense of unreality in that reality, and the visions of the black flowers follow her wherever she goes. Eden knows no one will believe she sees the flowers, or understand what she experienced in the In-Between, the pull of that calm and peace, and she is drawn to go back to the hospital, to Jasmine's room, where she comes to know Joe and his feelings for Jaz, his hopes for her eventual waking.

Then Eden realizes that she is feeling something new in her new life, strong feelings for Joe. She tries to let him know that Jaz was with her in the In-Between and that she is all right with being there, but she knows that is too much to believe unless you have been there... and she fears that the pull of the In-Between may be too strong for Jaz.

“Something does exist. I saw. It’s a place. Like this but different.”

In Estelle Laure's lyrical But Then I Came Back (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017), her heroine Eden has a sort of rebirth, made complex by her glimpse of what is beyond her life and life itself. Joe jokes that she should welcome life because she knows that death is not frightening, but it is not that easy for Eden, and despite the support of her twin Digby and best friend Lucille, it takes a metaphysical baptism in the freezing river to let Jaz go and reach out to those who love her in this world. Normal life means living with the knowledge of death, and Eden chooses to begin that life.

Adolescence is a sort of rebirth in itself, a leaving behind of one life for the next, and the author makes the most of that parallel, in this companion book to her earlier This Raging Light. Part existential quest, part love story, part spiritual rebirth, this is a novel coming-of-age story with a fascinating twist for young adult readers to ponder.

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