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Perfect by Rachel JoyceTitle: Perfect
Author: Rachel Joyce
ISBN: 978-0-8129-9330-1
No. of Pages: 400
Genre: Literary Fiction
Origins: Random House
Release Date: 14 January 2014
Bottom Line: Gorgeous, haunting, tragic

“Byron Hemmings wakes to a morning that looks like any other: his school uniform draped over his wooden desk chair, his sister arguing over the breakfast cereal, the click of his mother’s heels as she crosses the kitchen. But when the three of them leave home, driving into a dense summer fog, the morning takes an unmistakable turn. In one terrible moment, something happens, something completely unexpected and at odds with life as Byron understands it. While his mother seems not to have noticed, eleven-year-old Byron understands that from now on nothing can be the same.

What happened and who is to blame? Over the days and weeks that follow, Byron’s perfect world is shattered. Unable to trust his parents, he confides in his best friend, James, and together they concoct a plan. . . .

As she did in her debut, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce has imagined bewitching characters who find their ordinary lives unexpectedly thrown into chaos, who learn that there are times when children must become parents to their parents, and who discover that in confronting the hard truths about their pasts, they will forge unexpected relationships that have profound and surprising impacts. Brimming with love, forgiveness, and redemption, Perfect will cement Rachel Joyce’s reputation as one of fiction’s brightest talents.”

Thoughts: There is a particular truth about being the oldest sibling in a family. There is a heightened awareness of responsibility that does not exist in younger siblings. There is also, typically, a close bond with at least one parent. Poor Byron epitomizes these characteristics. He adores his mother and will do almost anything to make sure she remains happy. In fact, he views it as his duty to protect her from sadness. For an eleven-year-old boy, this means nothing but undue stress and terrible consequences when a particular situation spirals out of his childhood control. His inability to prevent bad things from happening to his family heightens the sense of unfairness at a chance circumstance with devastating consequences.

James is an interesting complement for Byron. He is Sheldon to Byron’s Leonard – the practical, logical one as opposed to Byron’s intense emotional responses. He is the one with the plans to help protect Byron’s family; he provides the guidance and reassurance Byron needs to complete his plans. He is an old soul. That he may be out of his depth in Byron’s situation never crosses his mind, and he approaches this most adult of circumstances with a precocious sagacity that borders on humorous. Their friendship is as touching as the end results are inevitable.

The true awfulness of Perfect is not what happens to Byron and his family. It is not even how much Byron struggles to maintain the status quo. It is the fact that two little boys are caught up into an entirely adult situation of which they have no hope of fully understanding or preventing. They can see that things are heading downward but they do not have the worldly knowledge to understand why or how to prevent it. Their hearts are in the right place, but they can affect no preventative measures to halt the situation’s descent. Therein also lays the beauty of Perfect for, regardless of their impotence, their desire serves as a touching reminder of the inherent goodness of children.

Perfect is the tragic story of misunderstandings, misplaced hopes, and unrequited dreams, of friendship and love, of expectations versus reality, of guilt and innocence, of responsibility and of consequences. Byron’s struggles to keep his world from falling to pieces are at once heartbreaking and endearing. His seriousness is charming, but it is his devotion to his mother where readers fall in love with him. Conversely, Jim’s own adulthood battles form their own tragedy. Ms. Joyce excels at peeling back each layer of cause and effect to highlight its lasting impact on the characters, while her gorgeous phrasing enlivens not only the dialogue but also the entire setting. Her excellent use of the multiple narrator/dual time period serves to heighten the considerable tension and drama. With its lasting discussions of guilt and innocence, Perfect is the type of story that compels and haunts.

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