Friday, February 9, 2018

Book Review: "All We Can Do Is Wait" by Richard Lawson

It seemed like just another day in Boston. And then, without warning, the Tobin Bridge collapses, with about 100 cars on its span at the time. These were people just going about their business—students, parents, families, people racing to work or school or home or to some other obligation or exciting occasion.

"It was hard to say who was less lucky, the ones who fell into the water or the ones who fell onto Charlestown, debris tumbling on top of them. Was it better to be swiftly crushed or to slowly drown in your car?"

As news of the tragedy spreads, loved ones of those believed to be on the bridge gather in the emergency room of Massachusetts General Hospital. Among those gathered is a group of teenagers, waiting for word about the condition of their family members or friends. They comfort each other, provide solace and support, and offer a sympathetic ear to listen to the others' fears, their regrets, even their secrets.

Siblings Jason and Alexa are waiting for news about their parents. For nearly a year, Jason has withdrawn from his family, preferring to spend his days in a stoned haze, where he is cut off from his feelings. Alexa resents her older brother for abandoning her emotionally, because she has really needed someone to turn to this past year. Yet each is hiding a secret that threatens to further widen the gap between them at a time they need each other most.

Scott's girlfriend Aimee was traveling over the bridge with friends en route to a theater production. Scott is deeply in love with Aimee but worries their relationship will fall apart once she leaves to go to college. He can't help but resent her a little bit because she seems just a little too excited to leave town for school. Maybe she's excited to leave him, too? He knows he's been difficult lately, but he just wants the opportunity to tell Aimee he loves her, so she'll realize they're meant to be together.

Kate, Skyler's older sister, has always looked out for her. Even though she's only two years older, Kate has in some instances acted like Skyler's aunt, even a surrogate mother, especially since their parents are no longer in the picture and their grandparents live in Cambodia. When Skyler was in danger and hid that fact from everyone, Kate knew—and once again, rescued her. So as Skyler waits to find out whether Kate survived the bridge collapse, she wonders how she might possibly survive without the person who has meant everything to her.

Facing uncertainty as to whether your family members or other loved ones are alive, dead, or seriously injured is a difficult task for anyone, much less teenagers dealing with their own problems at the same time. For Jason, Alexa, Scott, and Skyler, just being in proximity to each other brings some comfort as they wait for answers. At the same time, each struggles with reliving past regrets, looking at the events that brought them to this moment.

All We Can Do Is Wait gives evidence to the adage that "misery loves company." The book grabs you right away and keeps you rooted to the characters' stories, to the pain and fear each has borne to this moment, and the pain each could face depending upon the condition of their loved ones. At first I found it interesting that not one of these teenagers had anyone else who was worried enough about them to track them down at the hospital, but you realize that each of them have only themselves and those in the bridge collapse to depend on.

This is a really engaging story that reads a bit like a movie—I could honestly see these scenes playing out in my head. That's a testament to Richard Lawson's writing ability. I did think the book was perhaps a little too melodramatic and angsty even given the setting and the situation facing the characters, but that wasn't a deal-breaker for me. I waited for the "big reveal" in the case of one character, and it unfolded exactly like I expected, but it still choked me up a little.

At a few points I found the characters a little immature, and then I realized these were high school students. It was actually refreshing to find characters that weren't more sarcastic and erudite than people twice their age. There were a few places I worried Lawson might take the plot into total melodrama, and I was glad he avoided that.

This was a very fast read for me and I was completely invested in the story; in fact, I would love to know what happens next to these characters. I hope never to be in a situation like this, but I think Lawson accurately depicted the emotions and the events that would occur if a tragedy like this occurred.

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