FeaturedYoung Adult

Life and Other Complications


Loved it! 😍

Touching and uplifting YA rape survivor novel that fills a much needed void. Pointed and realistic without being graphic. Loved it.

The YA world of my adolescence was essentially divided into children's literature, adult fiction, and fantasy (which often bridged the gap between the two). Difficult topics were largely avoided except from a historical (and largely Anglocentric) context - who can forget Oliver's many trials in Oliver Twist? Or the heart-wrenching difficulties of Romeo and Juliet in Shakespeare's eponymous play?

Fortunately for teens (and adult readers) everywhere, the YA scene has evolved dramatically, and thanks to boundary-breaking authors such as Angie Thomas (The Hate U Give, On the Come Up), Donna Everhart (The Education of Dixie Dupree, The Road to Bittersweet) and Laurie Halse Anderson (Shout, Chains, Fever 1793), standards for literature in this age group are higher than ever before. Teens and new adults have an embarrassment of riches in their reading choices, and the standards can only be expected to grow and thrive from here.

Into this group comes Mullaly and Life and Other Complications. In this first person narrative, Mullaly describes the life of a teen, Aly, who was molested as a young child by her mother's boyfriend. Rather than defend Aly, her mother supported her perpetrator boyfriend, leaving Aly in the care of social services with no family, no support - and with a diagnosis of a terminal disease.

Sadly, this is a story that is all too frequent, perhaps not in its particulars, but certainly in its generalities. Mullaly handles it with tact and honesty. In a plot that is neither saccharine nor grim, she gives Aly the tools she needs in realistic and identifiable ways. She works with both Aly's inner strength and a group of friends from a hospital terminal illness support group that readers will enjoy coming to know and root for. Mullaly's ability to balance personal challenges with humor in her writing is demonstrated in the following passage about Aly's social group at the hospital:

The three of us met in the kids’ group. But at age 13, you move up to the Teens Living with Life Threatening Conditions Support Group. The chairs are taller for the teen version and the language is harsher. But otherwise, it’s the same. Kids still look like they’ve been blindsided the first time they come through the door. You don’t have to be terminal to end up here, but something has to be working pretty hard to kill you. And you see it in their eyes, that hunted, desperate look. ...

“Go ahead and take your seats so we can get started,” Dr. Klein said this afternoon. So I sat down in my usual seat in the circle of blue plastic chairs. Luke sat on my right. The seat on my left has been empty since Caroline stopped coming.

“Luke, 18, inoperable brain aneurysm. I call it Larry.”

The plot covers many things about Aly's struggle - her life with HIV, her challenges as a foster child, and her social isolation. But the biggest issues really are the monstrous injustices that were perpetrated upon her as a small child and how she deals with those.

Mullaly handles the material beautifully, leaving the reader with a sense of both hope and the realistic futures of Aly and her companions. The plot structure is strong, and Mullaly's voice is her own, but along with the handling of the material, it is the character set that is truly compelling. Mullaly sets up a team of supporting characters that calls both Thomas and Stephanie Meyer (Twilight series) to mind.

Altogether, this is a novel that needed to be written, flows well, and absolutely meets the standards of today's YA literature. I would recommend it to libraries and to anyone with interests in gender / maltreatment awareness, HIV (esp pediatric HIV) lit, or simply to anyone in search of good YA fiction with the caveat that they should be aware of potential trigger scenarios.

Reviewed by

I have numerous interests, from history to mystery, science to kids. I am a retired MD - a transplant left me with time for family, friends, faith, fun, fiction, film, & furry companions. For direct submissions, pls let me know why you're requesting me. Use FB or my em, julia.hoover1@gmail.com :) .

Tuesday, May 10

About the author

I am a former teacher who now lives in Virginia with my husband and our three teenagers. Along with all things related to books, I love to bake (with large quantities of chocolate) and spend time with my family (who happen to be even more fantastic than the characters in my head). view profile

Published on July 05, 2021

50000 words

Contains mild explicit content ⚠️

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Young Adult

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