Title: It Helps With the Blues
Author: Bryan Cebulski
Publisher: tRaum Books
Length: 171 Pages
Category: Teen Fiction
Rating: 4 Stars
At a Glance: The angst and woe in this short novel is intense, real, and frequently painful. These are teenagers being teenagers, for better and for worse, just trying to cope, and there are no easy or pat answers in the end. They are works-in-progress.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Content Notes: Suicide of a minor character (off-page), Misgendering of a character by their ex
Blurb: Jules leaves. Gabriel rages. Estelle changes. Joshua hides.
In the aftermath of a classmate’s suicide, a boy embroils himself in a community of Midwestern teens, each doing what they can to cope as they stumble—together and apart—toward a life worth living.
Review: It doesn’t take long to understand that It Helps With the Blues is being narrated by the author. Or, to be more precise, a younger version of the author. Both the story and the storytelling are intimate, shared as a means to interrogate life, examine love, and ponder what the hell it all means in those uncertain teenage years.
The angst and woe in this short novel is intense, real, and frequently painful, which of course won’t appeal to some readers in a “been there, lived that, don’t want to relive it” way. Suicide is a catalyst for these characters when a classmate kills himself, and processing it runs the gamut from escape to vandalism to isolation to drinking to avoid having to feel anything. And obviously trying to answer the question Why?, without coming to any real or clear understanding. The questions this story asks, however, and the ways in which each of the characters deals with them, were undeniably compelling and at times achingly familiar. Bryan Cebulski’s voice is expressive in such a personal way that it feels like communion, as if he’s confiding all to the reader.
Because It Helps With the Blues is a discourse between the author and reader, and some of the story is told in the epistolary, the element of show-vs-tell skews towards telling, which, while I’m a huge fan of great dialogue between characters, worked for me thanks in large part to the appeal of Cebulski’s writing. The limited cast does a lot of heavy lifting to get the message across, and the small-town claustrophobia gives them a backdrop against which to explore who they are, how they identify, and how they interact. They are teenagers being teenagers, for better and for worse, just trying to cope, and there are no easy or pat answers in the end. They are works-in-progress.
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