Patrick “Pack” Walsh is happy with how things are. The consistency and predictability of his life is something that is dependable in Pack’s life.
But when a letter from Pack’s supposedly dead mother arrives, everything changes.
Pack begins to question everything he knows–from his family to his friends–and he takes on the road to search for a mother he’s never known and a family he didn’t know existed. And with this new understanding of the past comes new understanding of the future.
I actually enjoyed this a lot more than I expected to!
I’ve checked out Michelle Falkoff’s other novel, Playlist for the Dead, three times from the library (and renewed it many many more) yet I never get to reading it. So, I was admittedly a little worried I wouldn’t feel encouraged to pick this up.
But somehow, this book just sucked me in.
It started out fine and had a good premise, but as I continued reading, it was like I was holding my breath and my chest just kept getting tighter and tighter as I yearned to learn more–about Pack’s mom, about some ~circumstances~, and about how Pack’s relationships would turn out in the end.
For some reason, I felt really invested in the story even though I didn’t feel a connection with Pack. There was something about how the plot was formed that drew me in and made me want to keep reading, but without making it feel like Falkoff was leading us on and withholding information cruelly, because we learned all the info as Pack did.
I love how important relationships are in this novel–family relationships, relationships with friends, relationships with friends of friends. It’s like the big idea: maintaining those relationships and letting some grow and cutting others off.
I think Pack definitely has a lot of flaws. Although on the outside he might seem pretty average, I feel like you learn that there’s a lot more to Pack than what meets the eye. Falkoff does a really good job of developing his backstory and some of the past pains Pack has, as well as his current struggles.
I think Pack’s problems go a lot deeper, and the one I specifically wanted to talk about was how he viewed body image.
Throughout the novel, Pack is super strict about how he eats and he very rigidly sticks to the Paleo diet and works out a lot.
I disagree with some other reviewers about this because I didn’t feel like Pack ever fat-shamed during the novel. This is all my interpretation of the novel and you could definitely feel differently, but to me it was like Pack was a flawed character and what he was doing–never indulging himself–obviously isn’t a healthy lifestyle (and is acknowledged as an ED), and in the end of the novel, he learns that this is true and figures out how to overindulge.
Good characters are flawed–they have problems. Pack has the problem of learning how to indulge himself from time to time, and I think Falkoff points this out very often throughout the novel–such as when his girlfriend drinks a beer or basically whenever Pack is with other people who eat.
I feel like for a large part of the novel, Pack doesn’t understand how others aren’t extraordinarily self conscious about their weight. Like when someone eats a donut or pizza or eating anything that isn’t in the Paleo diet. And this is a view of his that changes by the end of the novel & he realizes that indulging sometimes isn’t a bad thing.
I never got the feeling that Pack translated the message fat = bad. Just because Pack worked out a lot and ate strictly to feel good about himself and feel comfortable in his body doesn’t mean he hates fat people.
I think the goal Pack had for doing this was fuzzy because it changed throughout the novel. Initially he’s scared of the bullying and the names coming back, but by the end of the novel, I interpreted it as Pack kept his healthy lifestyle to stay healthy & continue with routine, breaking it occasionally for indulging himself, not to “not be fat.”
I sped through this pretty quickly and I think things get more and more spicy as you read on, which I definitely enjoyed. There’s a lot of mystery that builds, which is really cool.
Plus, I loved how developed the side characters were–they had more layers than I expected, especially Pack’s girlfriend. What I didn’t like was how Pack’s little cousin was never labeled as autistic, which felt kind of like a get-out-of-jail-free card because it was like Falkoff was scared of portraying autism incorrectly and instead just didn’t label it so she could keep her character without getting called out.
Of course, this may change in the final version of the novel.
Overall, I did really enjoy the relationships Pack forms in this novel and the ones he strengthens. I think there’s a lot of great themes on family and friendship. I would recommend to people looking for a more character-driven contemporary with minimal romance and a healthy dose of mystery.
Thank you so much to Edelweiss and Harper Collins for providing me with a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review!