Summary: An ad in the personal section of The Globe and Mail Newspaper connects two strangers from opposite ends of Canada. James, known as Sween, and Jessica begin a friendly correspondence with letters delivered back and forth between Saskatchewan and New Brunswick by Canada Post, gradually getting to know each other and finding connection across the kilometres. Writing proves to be different than in person contact though, and when Sween and Jessica finally meet, both feel a bit duped by unrealistic expectations. Deciding to cling to the world they created through their letters, Sween and Jessica are changed, but can’t maintain what they once had.
Number of Pages: 176
Age Range: 15-17
Review: Told exclusively through the letters exchanged between Sween and Jessica, Apart by R.P. MacIntyre and Wendy MacIntyre unfolds in spurts of action and reflective writing. As a reader I tend to assume characters are honest unless it is obvious they aren’t, and I loved the exploration of how we represent ourselves to people we haven’t met in person. Things got a little choppy in the end, but the MacIntyres managed to convey everything was not as it seemed, and what appeared to be a strong connection between Sween and Jessica kind of disintegrated in the harsh light of reality.
In some ways, I’m a little confused about what was being accurately represented and what wasn’t, but I was touched by Jessica’s relationship with her brother Timmy. She was always there for him to take care of him and protect him from harm, and was ultimately willing to give up her dreams for him. I don’t think that was a misrepresentation, and if Gunner hadn’t stepped in with his own plans for Timmy, I believe Jessica would have done her best to look after him on her own.
Which plunges other aspects of the book into doubt. Was Gunner really the villain then? Surely he was quite self-involved, but after Sween meets him he comes off better somehow. Not so selfish, and perhaps willing to do what Jessica is not for her greater good. It might just be a matter of perspective.
Either way, both Sween and Jessica were talented writers capable of moulding to suit their needs, and with all they were both dealing with, I’m not sure complete honesty was the most important thing. Despite what was real and what wasn’t, they managed to find connection and support to help them deal with lackluster parenting, mental health diagnoses, the death of pets and complicated sibling relationships. Their friendship served a purpose but also had a shelf life, reminding me that not all stories have the ending you might want them to.
“And here’s one of Great-Grandma’s sayings I really love, and that helps keep me going. ‘You have to dree your weird, child,’ she tells me. That means you have to endure your fate. And I have quite a lot of fate to endure.” – Jessica from Apart by R.P. MacIntyre and Wendy MacIntyre, page 31
“But the thing is, I just let him do it. I let him dig his hand in and really hurt me. Because sometimes it seems like that pain is something I deserve, or that I need to have done to me.
Let’s make a pact not to hurt ourselves like this any more. Because it seems to me that when you use the dog clippers on yourself when you’re depressed, that’s what you’re doing. It just makes my stomach clench to think of you buzzing your scalp and scraping yourself nearly bald. So no more of this kind of stuff. Okay by you?” – Jessica from Apart by R.P. MacIntyre and Wendy MacIntyre, page 59
“Maybe sex makes me uncomfortable because it’s so much in our faces all the time, and because of the way it’s presented with people in way-too-tight clothes and a lot of cheap vulgar jokes. I don’t see much of the kind of sexual love I imagine has to exist somewhere with kindness and caring and a gentle touch at the heart of it. I’m not seeing that anywhere at all really.” – Jessica from Apart by R.P. MacIntyre and Wendy MacIntyre, pages 75-76
“Gladys calls you The Writer because she sees what your destiny is. And maybe this is the reason for all your trials now. Maybe this is the ‘dark night of the soul’ every good writer has to go through in order to be perceptive and empathetic and honest. Or maybe you think I am being a super extraordinary romantic fool for thinking this way?” – Jessica from Apart by J.P. MacIntyre and Wendy MacIntyre, page 91