Author: Erin Watt
Publication Date: 9th July 2018
Publisher: HQ Young Adult – US
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher
One Small Thing is a hard one to articulate my feelings about. I liked it, I found it to be quite a quick read thanks to an unsettled baby who kept me up most of the night. It was quite predictable at the same time as stretching plausibility but also trying to send good messages. As I said, difficult to articulate.
Elizabeth Jones is a seventeen year old getting ready to embark on her senior year, she’s excited for new adventures and growing up. She has decided that she’s grown out of Lizzie, which is what everyone has called her forever, and now goes by Beth. She gets quite frustrated about it and though it sometimes made me giggle I could completely understand it. I remember being a teen with a nickname I no longer liked, that I felt too grown up for; and I hate to break it to you Beth but 30 years later and my family still call me that. This seems like such a small thing but it was used effectively throughout the story as a marker of how she was being treated, how well she was being listened to.
Beth has always been a good girl and followed the rules but since her sister passed away three years ago the rules have become an ever-tightening noose smothering her. Her parents are grieving the loss of their eldest daughter and they only want to keep Beth safe but the way they go about it is extremely counter-productive. I could understand their grief, their holding on, their over-protectiveness but still they frustrated me. Everyone grieves in their own way and it’s not right to tell anyone the way they grieve is wrong…. but I really felt they were wrong sometimes.
Beth is feeling the walls of her home, family and life are closing in on her and the summer is nearly over so she wants one last night of freedom before the start of senior year. I would have thought that was a pretty common feeling regardless of anything else, it’s made worse by coming home from her part-time job to discover that all her college applications were retrieved from the mailbox and never sent – because her parents applied to the college of their choice on her behalf. An understandably ropable Beth decides she’s going out and she’s going to make the most of it; she ends up heading to a party in the next town over, on her own because her best friend wasn’t comfortable joining her.
At the party Beth spots a guy she’s attracted to and they spend a lot of time talking. He’s very cool, noticeably older and Beth knows she’s a little naïve but doesn’t want to seem as innocent as she is so claims to know who he is because everyone else seems to. The two spend the evening together and really seem to connect, trading only nicknames.
If Beth thought the walls were closing in she didn’t know what she was in for, once her parents find out she’s been sneaking out the rules get tougher and the restrictions stricter.
The loss of a family member is a tragedy, and one you never get over, and we know that everyone deals differently but it can be very difficult to move forward when everyone in a house has completely different coping mechanisms. Beth feels like there is something wrong with her because she didn’t grieve enough, she didn’t cry enough but she has gained an unfortunate habit of crying at the drop of a hat – when she really doesn’t want to be crying. I would say that’s probably all the grief she has locked up tight and refuses to let herself feel but that’s just my opinion.
Beth met Chase at a party and the two felt a connection, but she wasn’t sure she would see him again and losing her phone privileges the next day means she can’t even contact him.
The loss of phone privileges also means she misses the many texts that are sent to her by the kids at school before she goes back; which means she gets no prior warning of the drama that’s going to play out in her senior year.
I actually really liked a lot of things about this book. In a real change from everything I have read in the young adult genre recently this is a story told from a single first person perspective. This is Beth’s story start to finish and I found that refreshing, though at times I would have liked to get into Chase’s head.
Many young adult romances are a case of good girl meets bad boy and the two fall in love then have to fight through all the odds to find their happiness and this is similar but taken to the extreme. I get that the two of them meet in the dark at a party and only exchange nicknames so they don’t put the pieces together but I have trouble believing that it’s even remotely possibly that things would play out the way they did once they put themselves in the big picture. Sorry I’m being a little cryptic, it’s hard not to be spoilery.
Watt has explored some hefty subject matter in grief, moving forward, survivor guilt, forgiveness, justice, rehabilitation and domestic violence in teen relationships.
There were elements that were sensitively explored and thought provoking but there was a lot that was just wrong. Authority figures with a duty of care to look out for their students sat back and sat firmly in judgement so didn’t move to stop bullying and harassment, always jumping to conclusions that effectively had them participating in the same bullying and harassment of a new student to the school.
On the other hand there were elements that made me think about the way we look at life. There are always going to be things we can’t control but if we can find that one good thing, however small, in every day we can get through anything. We can come through the tough times because we can’t control other people but we can control our responses. There were some great tips on subtle teen/parent negotiations and ways to change the dynamic which I think are probably important for us all to take on board.
The way we eventually came to the family beginning to move on was well played out, it was kind of karmic I think. I enjoyed the way the charmer got his come-uppance and that both smoothed and sorted some of the issues. Punishment and forgiveness were two powerful themes that I do think were explored well.
Overall I enjoyed One Small Thing, I think this is probably one more suited to the young adult demographic, and perhaps they wouldn’t see quite as big a plausibility leap. I would recommend it to those at the top end of the teen years and it may be of some assistance to teens who are grieving.
I would read Erin Watt again.