Phantom Limbs - Paula Garner
Otis and Meg were inseparable until her family abruptly moved away after the terrible accident that left Otis’s little brother dead and both of their families changed forever. Since then, it’s been three years of radio silence, during which time Otis has become the unlikely protégé of eighteen-year-old Dara—part drill sergeant, part friend—who’s hell-bent on transforming Otis into the Olympic swimmer she can no longer be. But when Otis learns that Meg is coming back to town, he must face some difficult truths about the girl he’s never forgotten and the brother he’s never stopped grieving. As it becomes achingly clear that he and Meg are not the same people they were, Otis must decide what to hold on to and what to leave behind. Quietly affecting, this compulsively readable debut novel captures all the confusion, heartbreak, and fragile hope of three teens struggling to accept profound absences in their lives.
I really enjoyed this book. But I am also very conscious that I am not, myself, a person with a disability, and would therefore love to hear the perspectives of those who are disabled. The Disabilities in Kidlit blog will hopefully be writing a post at some point. I can see possible issues in terms of some of the terminology used by certain characters, and about the protagonist maybe being seen as an able-bodied saviour. But that being said, I'm still a fan of the book as a whole.
Phantom Limbs refers to both a literal physical disability as well as a metaphorical scenario referring to the death of the protagonist's little brother in the past. The two are tied together in many respects, with Otis and Meg's pain over the loss of Otis's little brother, and the connection that Otis has to Dara, who lost her arm in an accident years earlier. Dara helps Otis to recover from his loss, just as Otis helps Dara to work through her phantom limb pains. When Meg comes back to town, Dara and Otis's friendship is put to the test, and Meg and Otis's past relationship puts everyone in awkward positions throughout the narrative arc.
Garner's character development is strong, and her writing is solid, making this yet another fantastic debut in the Candlewick Press catalog. I hope many will find strength in this novel, and I hope others will find hope and joy. There is a quietness to Garner's work that makes this a great novel to sit down with and ponder, consume slowly, and think about for a long while after finishing.
(NOTE: This review is from an Advance Reading Copy - Out Sept. 13, 2016)