When we first meet Kennedy, she is a 14-year-old girl with a twin brother and a little sister living in a happy, healthy home in California. Her dad is a salesman and her mom is a college professor.
But within a few pages of “Losing Rylie,” an unspeakable tragedy occurs and little Rylie – who the reader only really gets to know through the other characters’ memories – is killed in a car accident. Kennedy’s whole world comes crashing down as her mother goes into a catatonic state, her brother becomes distant, and her father struggles to hold the family together as he deals with his own grief over what is only referred to through the rest of the novel as the Event.
The family is forced to move across the country to Virginia to live with Kennedy’s grandparents, Bible-believing Christians whose love and support provide the framework for the family’s healing.
Author Clarissa Lee-Kennerly tells the story entirely through her main character, Kennedy. We hear her words and her thoughts as she works through the grief, anger, loss and loneliness that has come to define the teenager’s life.
Yet even as Kennedy struggles to let go of Rylie and hold on to her mom, who is nothing more than an empty shell, some good things start to happen to her – things that all teenagers can relate to. For starters, she falls in love with a good Christian boy named Brevin, who is two years her senior. She gets to go to the homecoming dance and to prom. She makes some friends, but also has to deal with the challenges of being biracial in a racist world.
Through it all, though, Kennedy maintains a dialogue with God and starts going to church. Her father and even her hardened twin brother, KJ, begin to explore and deepen their faith as well. There is a glimmer of hope for Kennedy’s mom, who after almost two years finally awakens and becomes a part of the family again.
Losing Rylie is written for a very specific audience: teenage girls, and that’s not a bad thing. In today’s world of conflicting and shifting values, it is a pleasure to explore fictional characters who are honest with themselves and honest with God – and whose faith in the true, living God is rewarded with growth and healing.
Losing Rylie may be a little weak on theology (at one point Kennedy consoles herself with the thought that Rylie could be an angel looking down on her from heaven), but it is strong on reality and honestly explores the subject of loss in a way that most of us, thankfully, never had to deal with as teenagers.
“Losing Rylie” is also something of a coming-of-age novel. The timeline of the story spans two years, so by the end Kennedy is driving a car – and who can forget those idyllic days when we first got our driver’s license? Aside from the portions dealing with the Event, the story is fun and very relatable for its intended audience. At the risk of spoiling things for the reader, it is safe to say that the story has a happy ending, leaving the reader with not only a sense of hope, but a sense of anticipation for the sequel!
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