The Death of Us is, superficially, a story about a love triangle gone horribly wrong, but YA author Alice Kuipers proves that even the most standard devices can be shaped into something rich and intriguing.
The beauty is in the details, which Kuipers weaves through her narrative with a grace often missing from young-adult fiction. Her deft character descriptions leave just enough room for an imaginative reader to fill in things unsaid.
Tragic and lovely, Ivy prefers to wear white, her blonde hair is always in place, and she’s socially successful. When she reappears three years after suddenly moving out of town, she easily fits the role of Queen Bee in the high-school hive. But Ivy is deeply flawed – a perfect foil for her bookish friend Callie. Every moment Callie spends with Ivy is full of drama, and also freighted with what happened between them before Ivy’s mysterious disappearance. Rounding out the trio is Kurt, who is dealing with some dark issues of his own. He is drawn in by Ivy’s beauty, a physical manifestation of the things he doesn’t believe he deserves, but finds a kindred spirit in Callie.
The events of July 31 – the night things take a tragic turn for the three friends – are narrated by Kurt, with Ivy and Callie filling in what went on during the two weeks prior. The structure, bouncing back and forth through time, builds tension leading up to the emotional finale.
Kuipers has created a complex, interesting story about teens dealing with some hefty issues. Even the trope of the love triangle is given a welcome (and realistic) twist. If readers take away nothing from the book other than the simple pleasure of Kuipers’ well-crafted love story, so be it. But there’s much more to this cautionary tale.