From the book blurb:
This timely, emotionally-resonant story about a teen girl dealing with the aftermath of a tragic shooting is a must-read from an exciting new YA talent.
Johanna has had more than enough trauma in her life. She lost her mom in a car accident, and her father went AWOL when Johanna was just a baby. At sixteen, life is steady, boring . . . maybe even stifling, since she’s being raised by her grandparents who never talk about their daughter, her mother Mandy.
Then he comes back: Robert Newton, Johanna’s father, bringing memories and pictures of Mandy. But that’s not all he shares…
Sixteen year old Joanna Carlson is a typical teenager. She likes music, fashion, and spending time with her best friends Gabby and Leah whom she has known since they went to the kindergarten. Joanna was adopted by her grandparents thirteen years ago when her mother was killed in a car accident. Her grandparents never speak about her mom, which is a bit unusual, and Jo can’t remember anything from the time.
Out of blue, Joanna’s estranged father Robert Newton writes her a letter and would like to see her for the first time after years of being completely absent from her life. Here is Jo’s chance to find out what her mother was really like. Robert isn’t particularly happy when he hears that Jo’s grandparents never gave her any details about how exactly her mother died, because he knows that behind this there is a tragic story which he has to share himself.
When Joanna was two and a half years old, she woke up from her nap, played a little on her own and found a loaded and unsecured gun, which her father carelessly left under the bed, and shot her mother Mandy. While Robert was in custody and later in jail, Mandy’s parents took care of the little girl. They even adopted her and moved to a different state to give her a new start in life without devastating memories. Now that Joanna knows about what really happened, her whole world has been turned upside down.
The topic of guns and related gun violence is something people feel very strongly about, but itt doesn’t often get covered in YA literature. Alex Richards is very careful to provide both sides of the debate. On one hand, we have tragic statistics of unintentional shootings involving very young children. On the other hand, she chooses another schoolgirl Annette Martinez to give arguments why people support safe gun ownership and strict child access prevention laws. Joanna’s grandfather himself used to own a hunting rifle which he was very careful to keep locked.
What we see in this book is a psychological drama of a child/adolescent who finds out she unintentionally took away a life and needs to make sense of it and forgive herself. Luckily, Joanna has a great support system – her friends Gabby and Leah and her boyfriend Milo who accept what happened and see it for what it really was – a tragic accident. Joanna herself has to go through a difficult emotional journey in this book. She is angry with her grandparents who chose to lie to her for all this time (although she does understand it was in order to protect her) and have difficulty communicating with her now. She is pushing away her friends, trying to give them ‘a card out’ of their friendship, but at the same time she wants them to stay. It doesn’t help that she is also going through a lot of bullying at school. Joanna begins to have panic attacks (brilliantly described by the author). Loss, grief, guilt, anger, confusion, self-acceptance – Joanna’s character goes through a lot of development.
The secondary characters are also well-drawn. Her friends say: ‘Yeah, we’re fully aware, and we’re not going anywhere’, but even they have to learn how to help Joanna. Her grandparents‘ journey is equally heart-breaking in all the love they give their granddaughter. Sometimes a small detail can speak volumes: Joanna’s grandfather spends ages to make her a jewelry box identical to the one he gave to her mother when she was sixteen; Joanna’s grandmother looks for new cooking ingredients to replace meat because Joanna wants to be a vegetarian like her mother was. Milo... in Joanna’s own words: ‘Milo doesn’t judge me or withhold information or smother me in sympathy’.
An emotional and moving book that deals with difficult topics, full of well-rounded, interesting characters and authentic emotions, Accidental is a great debut novel and I will definitely be looking forward to reading more from this author.
Thank you to Edelweiss and Bloomsbury for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.