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BookBrowse Reviews Six Feet Over It by Jennifer Longo

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Six Feet Over It by Jennifer Longo

Six Feet Over It

by Jennifer Longo
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  •  Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
  • Aug 26, 2014
  • Paperback:
  • Jan 2016
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A teenager thrown into unusual circumstances learns how to grieve and let go by celebrating life in all its complexity.

Leigh is haunted by death. Her father, Wade, has recently — and without prior warning — bought a graveyard and moved the family on site. Although Wade loves the idea of living in a "park" as in "memorial park," he always seems to vanish when someone arrives in need of their services. Forced into selling gravesites and tombstones, teenaged Leigh understandably dreads receiving customers; again and again, she is required to assist grieving families with a tragic and difficult purchase. While the pressure of the job weighs on Leigh, it turns out she has a talent for it. Deeply mired in her own grief over the loss of her best friend, Emily, Leigh can empathize with the troubled families.

In addition to her home, her job, and her own grief, there's this: Leigh's family is struggling to move on from her sister Kai's three-year battle with leukemia. Kai is now in remission and healthy enough to be running with the high school cross-country team. After preparing for Kai's death, the entire family is on uncertain ground now that she is thriving again. I found this revelation — that life in the face of seemingly certain death requires a new perspective — particularly poignant. While the father hides in his new venture, her mother, Meredith, escapes in her own ways. In addition to her focus on running, Kai is falling in love for the first time. Leigh feels as if she is the only one unable to relax. She is certain that if she lets down her guard, someone she loves will die. After all, that's what happened to Emily.

When Dario, the new groundskeeper and gravedigger, arrives on Leigh's fifteenth birthday, he is delighted to tell her she was born on Dias de Los Muertos — The Day of the Dead. Leigh does not understand or share his enthusiasm; instead she is traumatized by this revelation. She cuts herself off from her peers, especially friendly and enthusiastic Elanor. Leigh can't afford to connect with others, because, she thinks, "Every single moment I've been alive is directly related to and for the sole purpose of celebrating, defining, facilitating death…Proximity to me is poison."

But Dario won't let Leigh hide. Having survived a perilous journey across the border from Mexico into the United States, he is determined to live each day fully and encourages Leigh to take part in the world and to connect with Elanor. He insists on becoming her friend, forcing her to interact with the living — the joyous as well as the grieving.

Because many — most — novels for young adults focus on romantic relationships, I found the friendships in this story to be a refreshing change of pace. Although Leigh has a crush on Dario, who is a little too old for her, it is a young and innocent kind of attraction. Neither of them is ever in danger of crossing over into anything inappropriate. Dario respects Leah and talks to her — and understands her struggles. He also teaches her to drive. Most important, he is her friend.

Little details regarding work in a memorial park are woven in throughout, adding a touch of novelty. Most of the story takes place within the graveyard, a rich and atmospheric place. Although the setting and the themes of death are a bit mournful, the story never feels overly depressing, primarily thanks to Leigh's slightly sarcastic voice and dark sense of humor. For example, after first meeting Dario and still feeling like he "killed her birthday," she says she plots "ways to avoid him for the next four years until I can leave for college, join the circus, become a hooker — whichever will get me out of here fastest."

Most of the story is set between Leigh's fifteenth and sixteenth birthdays. The passage of time is deftly handled, shown primarily through holidays and seasons. This expanded window allows for Leigh's gradual healing and deeper self-awareness to feel authentic and earned. Although I had some issues with the plausibility of certain elements, they worked for the story and empowered Leigh in a satisfying manner that will appeal to the target audience of young teens.

Reviewed by Sarah Tomp

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in October 2014, and has been updated for the January 2016 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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Beyond the Book:
  The Day of The Dead

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