The story of two girls and the wild year that will cost one her life, and define the other’s for decades
Everything about fifteen-year-old Cat’s new town in rural Michigan is lonely and off-kilter until she meets her neighbor, the manic, beautiful, pill-popping Marlena. Cat is quickly drawn into Marlena’s orbit and as she catalogues a litany of firsts―first drink, first cigarette, first kiss, first pill―Marlena’s habits harden and calcify. Within the year, Marlena is dead, drowned in six inches of icy water in the woods nearby. Now, decades later, when a ghost from that pivotal year surfaces unexpectedly, Cat must try again to move on, even as the memory of Marlena calls her back.
Told in a haunting dialogue between past and present, Marlena is an unforgettable story of the friendships that shape us beyond reason and the ways it might be possible to pull oneself back from the brink.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Strong sexual themes, Drugs, Alcohol, Underage drinking
Publishers Weekly (November 14, 2016)
In her impressive debut novel, Buntin displays a remarkable control of tone and narrative arc. In a keenly observed study of teenage character, narrator Catherine, 15, is miserable in the ramshackle house her newly divorced mother has bought in the dismal town of Silver Lake in northern Michigan. When she meets Marlena, her glamorous 17-year-old next-door neighbor, Cat is smitten with the euphoria of having a best friend. Buntin is particularly sensitive to the misery of adolescent angst, and Cat’s growing happiness in Marlena’s friendship runs like an electric wire through the narrative. Marlena is dangerous, however: she runs with a bad crowd, and her father cooks meth. From the beginning, we know that Marlena is irresistible, reckless, and brave; she’s a mother substitute for her forlorn younger brother-musically talented, beautiful, and doomed to die young. It’s only later that Cat understands that Marlena is the needy one in their relationship. Her bravado hides desperation; she fears she’ll never get out of Silver Lake, that she has no future, and that “there were kids like us all over rural America.” Almost 20 years later, living in New York with her husband and working at a good job, Cat is still damaged by losing Marlena. Crippled by “the pain at the utter core of me,” she takes refuge in alcohol and memories. The novel is poignant and unforgettable, a sustained eulogy for Marlena’s “glow… that lives in lost things, that sets apart the gone forever.” Agent: Claudia Ballard, WME Entertainment. (Apr.)
School Library Journal (July 1, 2017)
When Catherine was a teenager, she moved to the small, economically depressed town of Silver Lake, MN, following her mom’s divorce. Now in her 30s, Catherine is still haunted by her past. Even a good job and a great husband can’t compensate for a pain that won’t fade completely and a powerful drinking problem that arose as a result of her best friend’s death by drowning. Catherine is consumed by the memory of a girl who made having nothing seem like everything. As chapters deftly alternate between the protagonist’s adult life and her adolescence, readers encounter teenage Cat: angry at her dad and unappreciative of her mom’s efforts, the 15-year-old is primed for reinvention. A bookish girl on partial scholarship at a private high school, Cat meets Marlena, a force of nature: blonde, sexy, and unapologetically brash and worldly. Cat is soon ditching school to hang out with her friend, who’s looked down on by many: Marlena is the daughter of a menacing meth cook who is not above trading his daughter’s sexual favors to a drug partner. Drinking, pills, smoking, sex-all the staples of Marlena’s life, once glamorous to Cat, become routine as Marlena’s sketchy friends and dangerous behavior affect both girls. This searing work from debut author Buntin adroitly captures the dark side of friendship and the turmoil of young adulthood. VERDICT Hand this unflinching tale to savvy teens starting to look beyond Ellen Hopkins or to readers who appreciate gritty fare, such as E.R. Frank’s Dime.-Suzanne Gordon, Lanier High School, Gwinnett County, GA
About the Author
Julie Buntin is from northern Michigan. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, Cosmopolitan, O, The Oprah Magazine, Slate, Electric Literature, and One Teen Story, among other publications. She teaches fiction at Marymount Manhattan College, and is the director of writing programs at Catapult. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. Marlena is her debut novel.
Her website is www.juliebuntin.com.
Around the Web
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