Lion, Melissa. Upstream. Wendy Lamb Books, 2005. ISBN 978-0375839542. 160 pp. $5.99
For some reason, my very favorite books are the ones that I read with a lump in my throat again every other page. Upstream is one of those titles. This is the story of an Alaskan high school girl trying to get over the recent death of her boyfriend Steven. Sneaking into his family’s now deserted house to stand in his room and remember their tender moments is not the way, but Martha copes by degrees in spite, with the start of the fall term of her senior year, focusing on her sisters, and thinking about college. A friendship with a California woman, come to run the local movie theatre where Martha works, is healing, but she can’t bring herself to explain her sorrow to this stranger who knows her as more than “that girl whose boyfriend died.”
Lion slowly unveils the when, where and how by slow degrees, so that as the character reveals herself and the truth of what happened to Steven to others, the reader is clued in as well. The portrait of a grieving teen is vivid and wholly believable as the depth of the couples feelings and the maturity of their relationship. Details of the Alaskan wildness lend a firm foundation and serve as a metaphor for the wild but unpredictable beauty of life.
This lovely sad book is marred only by an unnecessary epilogue – the point of YA novels is the end should feel like a new beginning, and once we know that Martha is going to be okay, we don’t need the details of her life after high school.