This is the Story of You by Beth Kephart
On Haven, a six-mile-wide stretch of barrier island, Mira Banul and her Year-Rounder friends have proudly risen to every challenge. But when a superstorm defies all predictions and devastates the island, when it strands Mira’s mother and brother on the mainland and upends all logic, nothing will ever be as it was. A stranger appears in the wreck of Mira’s home. A friend obsessed with vanishing is gone. As the mysteries deepen, Mira must find the strength to carry on– to somehow hold her memories in place while learning to trust a radically reinvented future.
— From the book jacket of This is the Story of You
Six miles long. One-half mile wide. One school in what was once a bank. 14 kids in the class of 2016. One bridge in and out. One letter short of Heaven. One superstorm to change it all forever.
Mira has lived in Haven, a small island off the coast of New Jersey, her whole life. Living in the attic of the seaside cottage she shares with her mother and her brother, Mira enjoys the slow pace of being a Year-Rounder. Hanging out with her friends Eva and Deni, riding their “modes” from one end of the island to the other (Mira’s mode of choice– a pair of roller skates), and watching over her little brother Jasper Lee, Mira’s life on Haven is pretty normal.
When snippets of news float in about a storm out at sea, no one seems overly concerned. Haven is prepared for weather. They pride themselves on it. They’d be ready if it hits.
In the beginning it was just the beginning. The storm had no name. It was far away and nothing big, mere vapors and degrees. It was the middle-ish of September. Empty tables in restaurants, naked spaces in parking lots, cool stairs in the lighthouse shaft.
You could watch the sky, and it was yours. You could stand on the south end of the barrier beach and see Atlantic City blinking on and off like a video game. You could ride your wheels home, and the splat splat on the wide asphalt was your sweet siren song.
Everything calm. Nothing headed toward crumble.
— From the back cover of This is the Story of You
When Mira’s mother, Mickey, takes Jasper Lee to the mainland for his weekly treatments for the rare disease he was born with, Mira is left on her own. That night a mysterious stranger shows up at her door, looking for a way in. But soon the stranger is the least of her worries. The storm has also arrived, and it’s brought all its unimaginable fury with it.
In the light of morning, the devastation is clear. Mira’s home is flooded. Other homes are simply gone. Debris fills the beach and floats out to sea. People are missing, including Mira’s best friend Eva. And the bridge to the mainland–washed away. With no way to even contact the mainland, Mira has no idea how her family has fared. She’s on her own. But she’s not alone. She’s part of Haven, a community that watches out for each other.
In the days that follow the storm, there will be traedgy. There will be loss. There will be heartbreak and horror. But there will also be hope. Haven will rebuild, as it always has.
On the surface, This the Story of You is a novel about a storm. But the storm isn’t the whole story. Underneath it all, it’s so much more. In fact, there’s very little time devoted to the actual storm itself. Instead, it’s a story of community and coming together in the wake of a disaster. It’s a story of hope in the face of tragedy. And most importantly, it’s a story about what it means to be a family.
The first thing you notice about this book is the writing style. Written in sparse prose that reads with an almost staccato rhythm, there’s no superfluous, drawn out descriptions. There’s no meandering. It’s succinct and to the point, yet still maintains an almost lyrical quality. Although the damage to the island is devastating, the descriptions of the world around Mira in the aftermath are stark, yet filled with haunting beauty. A nameless person playing a washed up piano on the beach. A little girl dancing in ladybug wings. A lone deer. I’ve never read anything else by Beth Kephart, but after reading reviews of her other works on Goodreads, it seems like this style carries over into her other titles. Which means I’ll eventually be picking them up to try out, because it really resonated with me. But be warned– because it does read as almost poetic prose, there were some on Goodreads that didn’t like this style much.
At just over 250 pages, it’s the shortest book I’ve read in awhile, but there’s plenty of story within these pages. The timeline of events spans from the days leading up to the storm, through several days after, with intermittent flashback chapters throughout. While some of these chapters may seem to drag a little, they help set up the world of Haven and the slow, peaceful pace of living in a small community. They also give a lot of insight into Mira’s family, because once the action starts, they’re absent from the scene. They shed light on who Mickey and Jasper Lee are, and it helps you understand the painstaking thought Mira puts into the small, meaningful things she tries to save from her home.
My usual complaint about the lack of character development doesn’t exactly apply here. Because of the writing style and the nature of the story, you’re only given just enough information to get you through. Which works in this instance. But I do have one hesitation with the story. Without giving anything away, the revelation at the end felt very jarring and rushed. All this knowledge dropped 15 pages from the end, with no time to process it. But maybe that’s the point– that a storm can tear your world apart, in order to bring it back together in ways you never expected.
Overall I really liked the story. It took me over three weeks to write this review, because I couldn’t come up with the words to convey what I felt about it. I was enchanted by the lyrical writing, the beautiful descriptions, and the entire town of Haven. I can’t wait to read more from Beth Kephart.
While this is written with Young Adult as the target audience, it could go as low as Middle Grade. There’s a peaceful innocence to characters of the story, (although there are a handful of instances of minor language) and I feel that even younger MG readers could grasp the story and its themes.
I thought the waves would rise up, toss down, rinse clean, and that I would still be standing here, solid.
I was wrong about almost everything, and some things: They do crumble.
— From This is the Story of You, page 256
Learn more about Beth Kephart