ALBATROSS was a book I'd never heard of before, but I'd just read FAKING FAITH by this author and while perusing my friends' reviews, I happened to notice that my GR friend, Donna, had mentioned that this book was even better in her review of FF. When I went to check out her review, I was SOLD. A realistic and gritty portrayal of an emotionally abusive relationship where the heroine is allowed to sometimes be a bad person? That sounds kind of amazing.
And this book IS amazing. Tess is a teenage girl whose life has been badly uprooted. She and her mom have just left her emotionally abusive dad and both of them are still kind of reeling from it, still unsure about what to do without the tight leash of his control. Tess is lonely and isolated: she has band, but misses her Chicago friends, and nobody in her new school has the kind of connection that years and years of friendship can give.
When she sees Micah, she's intrigued because he's a loner boy and a bit of an emo, and everyone in the school seems to think he's a bad person. Everyone except Daisy, his manic pixie dreamgirl girlfriend, who is regarded kindly by the rest of the student body as school slut. But when Tess starts talking with Micah, she learns that he doesn't really care all that much for Daisy, either. Even though he says he plans on marrying her one day, he refers to her, charmingly, as his "albatross."
Tess gets involved with Micah despite his girlfriend and she starts to really hate Daisy, even though Micah is the one who leaves her off-balance and emotionally reeling from his surprisingly cruel remarks. In fact, the way that he makes her feel is uncomfortably similar to how her dad's abusive tirades used to... and there's a voice in her head, getting louder all the while, telling her that she should get away.
I knew right from the beginning I was going to love this book. There's something super angsty about aughts-era YA. Maybe because we were all super miserable back then? I know I was. And the baby internet that existed back then left us all feeling way more isolated (although I don't know if that's better than the fishbowl that TikTok has plunged today's teens into). Like the heroine, I was also in band, and music was one of the few ways that I, as a super awkward teen, really felt like I was allowed to shine. I was also in a relationship that was kind of like the one she had with Micah (although nowhere near as bad), and I remember all the second-guessing and obsessing and hating of the other girl I did. So not feminist.
I'm giving this five stars because it did some amazing things. First, Tess's growth is just such a personal and deep read, and so uniquely tailored to her as a character, that I couldn't help but love it. Second, Tess does not end up with a boy, and the boy friend she does have does not act as her savior from Micah. The girl saves herself in this one-- and then, she saves somebody else. Third, she has some AMAZING lines. By the end of the book, I wanted to stand up in some bleachers, football game style, and scream into a megaphone "GO TESS." It was such a cathartic and satisfying moment.
It makes me sad that this author isn't getting more attention because she has such a knack for writing flawed and believable female characters, and boy, can she serve up the drama. Most of her books are either super cheap or on KU, too, so there's really no excuse for not checking them out.
4.5 to 5 out of 5 stars