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Book Review: Sleep Before Evening by Magdalena Ball

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It’s been a while since I’ve read a literary young adult novel, especially one about a fall into drug addiction. Magdalena Ball’s Sleep Before Evening, published by Be Write Books, was a great way to return to the genre.

When the grandfather of seventeen-year old scholarship student Marianne dies while playing chess with her, his death is the last cord holding her in her normal life. Her grandfather has been the only constant loving figure in her life. Her mother, Lily, loves her of course. She and Lily have a good relationship, but Lily’s second husband has just left the family, abandoning Marianne just as her father did years earlier.

Grief and abandonment is tough for any teenager but when Mari encounters Miles, a somewhat older, self-destructive drug-addicted musician, the reader knows it’s only a matter of time before Mari’s life takes a downward spiral. Mari, unfortunately, is a kid and not as wise as the cynical reader. Very slowly, as if on a determined path, Mari goes from premarital sex with this guy to cocaine and heroin addiction. It’s a story about how drugs, sex, and grief can work together in a great choreography of subtle evil to deprive a lonely innocent soul of her willpower.

Mari is a scholarship student who loves music and poetry. Her love of the arts is reflected in the poetically written book and in the way famous lines of poetry often jumps into her memory as a way of explaining her life. Thus, as certain elements of art call her to destruction, other aspects also try to save her. There are also memories of her grandfather, whose death Mari cannot quite accept because her mother allowed the hospital to cut off the life support. In the end, however, Mari’s mother does not stop her support for her.

Mari is a typical teenager in many ways. Naïve in many ways, living by and through art (classical and modern), and unable to speak about her emotional needs. It’s always hard for an adult writer to create such a character. So often angsty teenagers are clichéd or unlikable or they just seem plain unreal.

Here, however, the author does a good job. There were times I wanted to shake Mari because she reminded me of know-it-all teenagers who think they are free from danger. Other times I remembered my younger days when being allowed to hang out with older trendy types seemed like the greatest thing that could happen to a person.

The story takes place in the past, in the Reagan era, but it doesn’t feel nostalgic or old-fashioned. Its geographical setting is New York City, my old haunt. Magdalena ball does a great job in showing the dangers of the New York art scene. This is not a book about someone falling into debauchery and those folks who like a happy read shouldn’t buy it. It’s a triumphant book and teenagers will like it, although they may react differently to many of the poetic passages.

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