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Book review: “How It Ends”

Erika Michel

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After reading Laura Wiess’ “How It Ends,” I need to schedule an immediate phone appointment with my grandmother. The novel begins with Helen Schoenmaker entertaining her five-year old neighbor, Hanna, with fake childhood stories of mischievous adventures and happily ever afters. Entrusted with Hanna while her parents iron out problems in their marriage, Helen becomes a pseudo-grandmother to her.

Now 15 years old, Hanna is venturing off to high school. Told from alternate points of view, the novel slowly sets up the foundations for the major storyline. Hanna, like the good high school freshman that she is, has fallen for an older boy, Seth. Envision Jordan Catalano from “My So-Called Life” in a Catholic high school uniform and you have Hanna’s target of obsession.

With my extensive “education” from a large quantity of Young Adult novels on what makes up a dreamy love interest, Seth certainly does not make the cut. Readers will quickly recognize that Hanna is wasting her time on Seth, the John Mayer wannabe, and remember when they similarly fell for one of his type.

In Helen’s sections of the novel, she longs to see her absentee granddaughter. Helen begins to notice the odd tremors in her hands have developed into Parkinson’s disease and decides that she must confess the truth of her past soon. Fearful of Hanna’s reaction to a decade worth of lies, Helen enlists the help of her husband, Lon, in creating an audiobook that will slowly ease the truth of her life to her granddaughter.

Finally feeling an ounce of guilt that she hasn’t visited Helen in a while, Hanna arranges for her high school’s mandatory community service requirement to be fulfilled at the Schoenmaker’s home. Helen is no longer able to speak because the disease has advanced so quickly and caused constant thrashing. Hanna is justifyingly frightened by her grandmother’s condition in the hours they spend together. Made to believe that Helen wants to hear a specific audiobook, Hanna unknowingly listens to the story of her grandmother’s past.

In a Nicholas Sparks “The Notebook-esque” fashion, Helen is able to communicate all that she has kept hidden from Hanna in the autobiographical story of “Louise Bell Closson.”  The audiobook, titled “How It Ends,” describes the terrors of foster home care in the ’20s to a chilling glimpse of a rich, deranged, syphilis-consumed couple that takes Louise in, to Louise’s love story with her husband. A string of shocked reactions and near fainting spells ensued while reading Helen’s story. “How It Ends” turned from an average Target book buy to a compelling novel describing the different concepts of love, from unconditional to true love, and what individuals are willing to do in its name.

Wiess’ honest and realistic construction of Hanna and Helen’s narratives created meaningful characters. My final heart palpitation caused by “How It Ends” was at the hands of the fateful decisions Wiess’ characters made in the conclusion of the novel.

“How It Ends” is a captivating read, even if I blame it for my newly acquired heart condition.

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Book review: “How It Ends”