The Survival Kit by Donna Freitas

23 03 2012

When Rose’s mom dies, she leaves behind a brown paper bag labeled Rose’s Survival Kit. Inside the bag, Rose finds an iPod, with a to-be-determined playlist; a picture of peonies, for growing; a crystal heart, for loving; a paper star, for making a wish; and a  paper kite, for letting go.
As Rose ponders the meaning of each item, she finds herself returning again and again to an unexpected source of comfort. Will is her family’s gardener, the school hockey star, and the only person who really understands what she’s going through. Can loss lead to love?

 Rose was always close to her mother. After her mother dies from cancer, she and her family (her father & older brother Jim) must recover from her death. Rose’s mother was infamous for making Survival Kits for the parents of children she taught. These kits contained items to help the parents through their difficulties of missing their children and they were very popular. Rose discovers one of these kits in her closet, containing six items that will allow her to move on from her grief. As she tries to break out of the grief and return to her normal life, she wonders if she can ever love again. 

Now, this book came recommended heavily. I figured that since I enjoy contemporary fiction it would be a good read for me. The theme of grief, while important, has been a bit overused in fiction as of late, and the romance (a key part) isn’t my forte. I found myself disliking the book quite a bit even as I liked some parts. 

In the end, I feel kind of unsure on what I think. 

I’ll start with the good. The characters were all very unique. Where Freitas could have fallen into stereotypes – cheereladers, football boyfriends – she managed to subvert clichés and make them unique, original characters that avoided tropes. However, I felt like most of the characters didn’t get much development. Rose and Will developed, changing as they continued their (very cute) romance. But the other characters seemed static, never changing or developing. I also felt like I didn’t know many of the characters. Rose and Will had personalities and I understood their feelings, families, and histories. But the others – like Rose’s three best friends – never seemed to even really be developed. They were simply there, almost like props, just to move the story along. 

For the plot, it was yes, a bit predictable. I expected it to be predictable almost instantly, though I may have been being cynical. But it was sweet, and the romance made me smile. The romance is also very well developed, forming over a long period of time instead of the dreaded “instalove” formula that appears in so many books. There were some things that seemed off, however. The Dad’s sudden change is very predictable and his character seemed to suddenly change after his pivotal event. I felt like the climax of the story was also a little off, as it was all based around one event (the dad’s pivotal moment). However, the story was sweet and it would make a nice fit for romance fans. 

The writing was nice, smooth and easy to read. I thought that Freitas’s authors note also added a bit to the story (read: always read the authors notes!). She explained that the Survival Kits actually did exist. Her mother, whose situation parallels some parts of the story (she sadly also died from cancer) created the Survival Kits for her friends and family, and like Rose’s fictional mother, became infamous for her kits. I thought that changed my reading of the book a bit, as I could see it more as an semi-autobiographical novel as well as a sweet romantic read. 

One final note: I would absolutely love to get my own Survival Kit someday

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