Grief is a simultaneously universal and elusive feeling, weaving in and out of people’s lives like an aimless, wandering child—seemingly unaware of just how much of an effect it has. It can often feel akin to walking around in a place filled with nothing but ever-shifting inclines and plunging pitfalls—all of which, comes without any warning of what direction you’ll be taking as you make your way through it.
This plane of grief is where the story kicks off in Kathleen Glasgow’s book How to Make Friends with the Dark. Glasgow takes the reader on a journey that follows sixteen-year-old “Tiger’s” (Grace’s) traumatic experience of losing her mother, in which she seamlessly inter-weaves the ambivalent emotions that emphasize grief throughout the novel. We see Tiger struggle with anger, guilt, and immense sadness—and sometimes all within the scope of the same page, which mirrors an authentic experience of grief. It never feels forced or as if she’s moving on from one emotion to the next just for the sake of pacing in the plot. Instead, the movement of grief within feels natural, filled with some steps forward and some steps back.
With the use of intermittent chapters, Glasgow seems to take this opportunity to create an atmosphere of detachment, wherein she would switch perspectives—from first to second person. Creating this feeling of detachment is a clever way to convey not only the initial shock of Tiger’s mother’s death, but to emphasize moments which were emotionally charged for Tiger. For example, right after her mother dies at the hospital, Tiger is in denial as she thinks, “I let go of her hand and step closer to the body on the table. The woman smells clinical…My mother smells good, like the oatmeal soap she uses in the shower…[but] This person is different…” (Glasgow 43). Though the switch in perspective here is subtle—in this instance, from first to close third—it still manages to give the scene not only an out-of-body experience, but also the perfect balance of denial and shock one feels in a traumatic event such as this. The use of this technique is brilliant because it makes the experience of grief feel all the more realistic.
Another strong aspect of Glasgow’s book is that although the book is titled How to Make Friends with the Dark, it is in no way telling the reader there’s a quick “how to” in overcoming grief. Nor is it saying there’s a “right way” in dealing with it. Typically, when books or movies center on grief, there’s an underlying theme of seeking and finding an immediate recovery from it; and it’s displayed as merely a one and done sort of scenario, where you deal with it once and then it’s gone forever, which is simply not the case. The scenario of grief may be an instantaneous situation, but recovering from it certainly is not. Tiger finally seems to come to the same conclusion when she remarks, “One moment she was, and the next moment she was in the hospital, and she wasn’t” (Glasgow, 221). In life—like the saying goes— no one is promised tomorrow, and things can very easily change in a single moment, often in irrevocable ways. As humans we have a hard time with any sort of change, let alone life-altering events. So instead of always looking for that quick fix or movie-esque solution, it’s more natural that we take the time to adjust and figure out this new state of living. Glasgow takes this approach within her own book and takes her audience on a more natural journey in dealing with grief. There’s never a point in the story where I felt Glasgow trying to say, “this is how you deal with grief” or “this is how you overcome it.” Rather, I felt I was merely on one person’s particular journey in dealing with grief in her own way—and most importantly, I was shown that though grief usually isn’t an immediate fix, it can be, in time, easier to manage.