I got this book, Mockingbird, by Chuck Wendig, from Netgalley, because the blurb (short and sweet) sounded really interesting--a girl who can see how people die foresees a big tragedy. It was succinct and punchy, and when I started the book, it had a gritty, acidic wit, and I got into it.
As I was reading, I was composing this review, which included some concerns about how there seemed to be a backstory subplot going on that was really informing the relationships among the characters but that seemed pretty unclear to me. Were we going to flash back to how these characters met? What's the story behind the little pieces of info that we get here and there about their histories?
I was almost done with the book before I found out that it was the sequel to the book Blackbirds. When I realized that, I was 1) embarrassed, but 2) mightily impressed, because as a second book, it works really, really well. From the beginning, I understood the characters, I got a clear idea of how they felt about each other, and I understood what I needed to dive right into the story. And let's let this stand as a recommendation for the book: after getting it free to review, I then paid money for the first one in the series, and will probably do so if another comes out later.
So, the book. If Miriam touches someone, she can see how they'll die. She gets lots of details--sometimes sights and sounds and smells, but also dates and information (what kind of cancer, where it's metastasized, how long it's been happening). The kicker is, there's not much she can do. Explaining it, trying to stop it--nothing helps. In extreme moments (as in the first scene of the book, so I'm not giving anything away), serious, profound, violent action on her part can change things, but the different outcome is generally just as ugly.
Unsurprisingly, this has made Miriam a kind of prickly person. She's also broke and in need of money, so a friend sets her up with a gig--a woman who's sure she's dying, though the doctors say no. Miriam goes to the boarding school where the woman works and easily tells the woman her outcome. But it's when she accidentally makes contact with one of the students and sees her horrible, violent death that things really take off.
This book is all about voice. Miriam is angry, sour, intelligent, and likes to hear herself talk. She takes care of herself, often by beating the crap out of people, and I kind of loved that about her--a woman of action. She drinks and smokes too much, doesn't eat enough, and is really on the edge of not holding it together, but she's fast and she's trying. She kind of reminds me of Lisbeth from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, only more likeable (in her prickly way) and sympathetic and well-written.
It's not a book for everyone. It's angry and ugly and violent and there's a lot of cursing. You feel right with the characters when they're hungry and hung over and limping and stuck out in cold rain and angry and scared. But that's also what's so great about it. This is a book where, if you read the first five pages and think, yeah, this could be good, then you will absolutely love it. I kind of did.