The Lighter Side of Life and Death (2010) written by C.K. Kelly Martin is a YA novel and Ms. Martin’s third book. I was drawn into this story from page one and I read it almost straight through. I’m sure it’s just me.
The themes: teen sex, obsession, friendship and family. As an adult who is past her high school years, I was deeply drawn into the story thanks to the kinetic thoughts of our 16 year old male narrator. This is my second time reading Ms. Martin. Her first book, I Know It’s Over, was good but this book is much better because it has a better ending. The story is set in Ontario, like her previous book. The author prefaces the first chapter with the lyrics from Tina Turner’s “Simply The Best.” Love that song. The story starts off on an emotional high and I was drawn in immediately.
Mason Rice and Kat Medina are best friends. Mason and his friend Jamie, both had a crush on Kat but they both know they are not her type. She has a boyfriend named Hugo, who’s “half Asian, half-black, a senior from the track team.” Kat herself is described as being a Jennifer Lopez look-alike with curves with the cute “Filipino accent.” Over the years, the three have always hung out the together. They’ve developed a tight bond.
Riding off a high of delivering an ace performance of Arthur Miller’s play, All My Sons, sixteen year old Mason Rice feels like he is on top of the world. Life is “golden” for him and the future looks promising. At the casting party, he is ready to celebrate with his friends but ends up leaving the party early. Why? Kat wants to leave because she’s just caught her boyfriend cheating on her. Seeing how upset Kat is, Mason leaves the party with her and they both decide to take a late night walk.
The two end up going to Mason’s house. Both being a little drunk, they end up having sex on the couch. Mason knows that Kat is a virgin. Thing is she doesn’t know that Mason is, too. Seeing that they didn’t have much time to chat, Mason leaves Kat a voice mail. She never returns it. Next day at school, Mason is totally surprised by Kat’s reaction to him: she’s avoiding him. She tries to cover how freaked she is about the whole thing but fails.
Mason’s plan to tell her that he was a virgin is nixed. He’s not about open himself up to her with her avoiding him. Despite how Kat is reacting, Mason thought their night together was special and he can’t seem to get her out of his head. Wait. I think that’s a song.
There are at least four or five others in Mason’s and Kat’s social group. At the start, no one knows Mason and Kat slept together but they do take notice of the awkwardness between them. Rumors start to go around school about the two of them and this strains Mason’s friendship with Jamie, who is jealous and mad that Mason slept with Kat.
Mason’s thoughts are frenzied. He can’t handle losing both his friends at the same time but he doesn’t regret what happened. At times, his mind is always racing. He’s just lost his virginity and he’s seriously crushing on this girl but she doesn’t want to be with him. He becomes obsessed with her, with her body. The taste of her. The feel of her. He replays that night over and over again. Mason comes off like a spinning top sometimes. He’s a guy desperately trying to find his equilibrium.
As if that isn’t enough, Mason has a new step-mom, step-brother and step-sister moving in with him: Nina and her two children 13 year old Brianna and 6 year old Burke and their anti-social cat, Billy. Before Nina came into their lives, it was just Mason and his dad. His mother stays in Vancouver and he does the annual visit every summer. Mason’s father isn’t the type of to keep track of his son and allows him to stay out late even on school nights. The author creates such well rounded guys, I can’t help but like them. They have flaws but what I like about them the most is that they do the right thing.
Mason likes Nina and thinks she’s “cool” but for some reason her daughter, Brianna gives him nothing but attitude with a capital A. The animosity between them was often intense. When Mason asks her why she treats them with such apathy, her response is something like: why do people always have to like you? Or something like that. Brianna clearly has issues but she does change her attitude, albeit marginally, towards Mason in the end.
The drama gets elevated a notch when Mason first meets Collette at Nina’s engagement/home warming party. She’s Nina’s best friend and she’s 23 years old. Collette flirts with Mason a little but it’s enough to put him into hyper drive again. He’s still conflicted over Kat but is open to being, uh, distracted by something a little more dangerous and sexy. Colette does nothing but set off Mason’s libido. After his first taste with Kat, that’s all he can think of right now. The two have a secret affair and it’s intense. I won’t go into the details. I will say that it’s messy and complicated for all involved.
The story arc shuffles back and forth between Mason’s secret affair with an older woman to the complications and frustrations that accompany the formation of a newly formed step-family to the drama at school with this friends. I was never bored. Never.
I loved the ending. I was surprised by how bittersweet it was because I’d read the author’s first book and that DID NOT end on a happy note. Heck, the title gave it away but still, I enjoyed it. Anyway, the ending in here had me grinning.
Criticisms, well, I wasn’t keen on the whole “older woman” storyline and I knew how that was gonna end. It didn’t develop immediately which was a plus. The conversation that Kat and Mason should have had?, you know, the TALK, arrived much, much later, towards the end. I would have preferred that they had the conversation sooner but then we wouldn’t have had conflict. It was a weak ploy to keep to the two apart. I don’t know if this is worst than a misunderstanding but it drove me crazy.
I wanted to add one more thing and that is, Mason learns that what he did to get over Kat just doesn’t work. Relationships developed while you’re rebounding never works out for the best. You can’t use other people to distract yourself from your emotional turmoil. He realizes this and moves forward from there.
This may not be the best book of 2010 but it held my attention from start to finish. You can’t ask for more than that. I’m always interested in external conflicts or internal conflicts that test relationships. I enjoy reading about experiences that differ from my own and how teens grapple with adult situations with their kid logic. I was surprised and thrilled that this story ended happily even though the journey there was a rough one. My grade, B+. I bought this book without reading the back blurb. Why? I was so impressed with her first book that I didn’t hesitate buying her other books. I’m glad that the risk payed off x 2. I peeked at her other book and the narrator seems to be female (boo!). j/k.