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Title: Torn Away
Author: Jennifer Brown
Publication Date: May 6, 2014
Synopsis: Born and raised in the Midwest, Jersey Cameron knows all about tornadoes. Or so she thinks. When her town is devastated by a twister, Jersey survives -- but loses her mother, her young sister, and her home. As she struggles to overcome her grief, she's sent to live with her only surviving relatives: first her biological father, then her estranged grandparents.
In an unfamiliar place, Jersey faces a reality she's never considered before -- one in which her mother wasn't perfect, and neither were her grandparents, but they all loved her just the same. Together, they create a new definition of family. And that's something no tornado can touch.
Review: I have never experienced a devastating tornado. Growing up in Florida, tornadoes usually only show up during hurricane season, and even then they're very small and don't completely destroy entire towns. We don't even have tornado sirens (I didn't even know such a thing existed until I was in college and my friends from the Midwest were confused by the lack of them). My limited knowledge of them comes from tornado drills in elementary - high school where all we did was hide under a desk and get away from the windows and the Twister "ride" at Universal Studios.
That being said, this book still hit me really hard. I couldn't empathize with Jersey at all, but Torn Away is still completely heart-breaking and very real. As the tornado hits Jersey's town, I felt like I was there; I was terrified for her when she rushes to the basement and when she wakes up the next morning and her entire town is just... gone. Jennifer Brown does an excellent job of making Jersey's experiences relateable even for someone who has never been through anything like them, and made me grateful I've never experienced a natural disaster of this magnitude.
I think this book also does a pretty good job of dealing with estranged family, but I actually really hated her dad's family. I wanted to punch her step-sisters in the face pretty much every time they showed up, I hated her grandparents, and I hated her step-dad the most for having her end up there in the first place. It was hard for me to read those sections, and while I think that was the point, I just can't imagine how any family would be so horrible to someone without an sort of explanation.
There's a little bit of a romance in this book, but I'm glad it took a back-seat to the rest of the plot. It's nice to see that Jersey has friends and people she can rely on, and that she might be developing feelings for one of those characters, but I'm glad that it's left open-ended and that there was some room for imagination on the readers' part by the end. It's not a happily-ever-after by any stretch of the imagination, but maybe one day it could be.
I loved Jennifer's writing and I was hooked from the very beginning (despite the inevitable tears), and I'm really glad I had the opportunity to read this book. I think anyone looking for a realistic, contemporary YA book who isn't afraid of reading about tough subjects like death, destruction, and awful family problems, should really consider reading Torn Away. There were some places where the book fell a little short for me, so I'd give it a 3/5. But it was still a great (heart-breaking) read.