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Without Tess Hardcover – Oct 11 2011

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"Following up on themes raised in her well-received first novel, Freak, Marcella Pixley continues to explore the complexities of sibling loyalty."--New York Times
"Pixley's memory play is a difficult, sadly beautiful ode to a complex and heartbreaking issue."--Publishers Weekly Online, Starred Review
"[a] lyrical, heartrending novel."--School Library Journal, Starred Review
"Pixley, who skillfully tackled another complicated sisterly relationship in Freak...takes a rather provocative step here: she sets up some alluring and imaginative magical conceits that will immediately catch the attention of fantasy readers just as they did Lizzie, and then mercilessly makes their appeal their danger."--BCCB
"...smooth, well-paced, and contemporary."--VOYA Online
"Pixley (Freak, 2007) once again plumbs the emotional depths of a tough subject with sensitivity and insight into the complexities of human nature and sibling bonds."--Kirkus Reviews

About the Author

Marcella Pixley is a middle school language arts teacher and a writer. Her poetry has been published in various literary journals, and she has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her first book, Freak, received four starred reviews and was named a Kirkus Best Book of the Year. She lives in Westford, Massachusetts, with her husband and two sons.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 19 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Without Tess Nov. 1 2011
By Mundie Moms & Mundie Kids Book Reviews - Published on
Format: Hardcover
3.5 stars

This is a well written book that touches on something that's rarely seen in YA books, and that's mental illness. The story itself centers on the young Lizzie, the forgotten sister who's constantly caught between her mentally ill sister and her parents who for the majority of the story are in denial over Tess's problem. Tess and Lizzie seem to have that fantastic childhood that's full of make believe and magic. Their world is one that takes them to different places and allows me them to be anything they want to be. It's full of possibilities, happiness and magic. Little by little the world that centers around the two sisters becomes darker and darker as Tess starts to blur the lines of make believe and reality.

Lizzie herself is one of these girls I wanted to reach out to. Now a teenager she's in therapy, turning to cope with what happened during her childhood. This poor girl is so strong and yet so broken. Her emotions and feelings of what happened through out the book were completely justified and understandable at times, and other times it was hard to connect with her. As a child there were times she knew something wasn't quite right, but she couldn't quite grasp what that was. Tess, the older sister was someone I despised from the get go. The things she does to her sister were not only harmful and selfish, but they permanently scared her sister. She had absolutely no regard to Lizzie's safety or anyone else's and didn't mind inflicting pain upon her. On the same token, it was a little heart breaking seeing how quickly she goes down hill.

Marcella really does a great job at taking readers into this delusional, darker world of her mental ill character. If she had gotten the help earlier on, I think there would have been a dramatically different out come for everyone, including Tess and Lizzie. I spent most of the book completely frustrated and irritated at Lizzie's parents who when it's apparent something is really wrong with their daughter are in such denial, that they inadvertently put both girls in harm, because they do not get Tess the help she desperately need. It's not until something happens to Lizzie do they finally get Tess the help she needs, but sadly it's far too late for it. I wasn't at all prepared for what takes place during this story when I sat down to read it, but it was something I couldn't stop reading.

While I found the story to be rich, and well developed, there were a few times I found the dialogue between Tess and Lizzie who are 10 and 11 at the time to be a little bit too mature for their age. There's also the topic of religion that is mentioned a few times in the story that I felt was a little out of place for what was going on. One of the things I really wanted to see develop more of was the sweet romance between Lizzie and one of the characters. I understand it was not a big part of the story until the very end, but it's one I wish hadn't sat on the back burner until then. The scene that takes place is heartbreakingly beautiful for both characters. Regardless, Without Tess is a truly powerful read that dives right into the dark world of mental illness and the effects it has not only on the person who has it, but those around them. This is a story I'd recommend to older YA readers.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Endearing Story of Mental Illness Oct. 12 2011
By Book Sake - Published on
Format: Hardcover
When I started this one I wasn't expecting the story that came. This is a tale that weaves in and out of the present and the past, it's as much about Tess and her mental instability as it is about Lizzie and her need to hold onto the sister she loved. I find stories regarding mental illness fascinating and this one was really intriguing because of the fantasy world that Tess lived in. So many times I found myself holding my breath, wondering if that moment was the moment that would change Tess and Lizzie's world, I knew it would happen, I just didn't know when. While Tess is definitely in a different mind frame than most of us, she is still relatable which makes her endearing as she tries to hold on to what makes her happy. Lizzie, even as the little sister, knows the difference between fantasy and reality and at times tries to reel her sister in while at the same time, she wants to believe in her sister's world. It is a heartbreaking story about friendship, family, loss, and survival.

Reviewed by Jessica for Book Sake.
3.5/5 from Bookworm1858 Aug. 26 2012
By bookworm1858 - Published on
Format: Hardcover
One of the themes or plotlines that most preoccupies me in literature is that covering the relationship between sisters. This comes from my own actual life where I have a younger sister. I do not usually anticipate reading books where the sister-sister relationship is as functional as ours (because it isn't very dramatic) but then I don't usually expect a relationship as dysfunctional as the one covered in Without Tess.

Our narrator is Lizzie, a young girl faltering in high school, still mourning the loss of her older sister, the titular Tess. She has no friends, no ambitions, and clutches Tess' journal as her safety. Through the listening help of Dr. Kaplan, Lizzie begins to realize the mental state of Tess and release herself from crippling feelings of guilt over her complicity in her sister's death.

I felt so much pain reading about Tess, her imaginative fancies, and the way she brought Lizzie in to them. I understand that Tess had mental problems and that their parents were completely ineffectual in getting her the support she needed. But as an outsider, I just wanted to reach in and protect Lizzie. She constantly put herself at risk and alienated others in order to stay in the good graces of her temperamental sister. As it says on the book jacket, "...she did everything her sister asked her to do, even if it meant putting herself in danger." It's absolutely heartbreaking and one of the saddest sister stories I've read. There are the fun times that bind them as sisters but they are far outweighed by Tess' mental illness.

One last element to mention is the writing, which is beautifully lush and did an excellent job capturing Tess' poetic side, the way she could throw out a phrase or sentence to entice Lizzie. However that is not the kind of writing that I really like and I sometimes felt overwhelmed by the writing. It was pretty and character-based where I tend to like a little bit more action. As might be expected, there are a lot of flashbacks in the book to trace the development of the relationship between the sisters; sometimes this can be confusing but in general, I thought it was very clear when events were happening.

Overall: Beautiful poetic writing and a storyline that just made me want to go hug my sister and tell her how much I love her.

Cover: A fitting sparseness for the way Lizzie's life feels.
Touching, sentimental look at mental illness April 7 2012
By Jade E - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The blurb of this book sounded so interesting and different from what I've read that I was excited to give it a try. It did not disappoint! This was an extremely insightful look at childhood mental illness and it was sad yet hopeful all at once.

The Good: What I loved about this book was the subtle way Pixley alerted the reader that things were not right in Tess Cohen's head. What started out as a cute and harmless game for children turned into a disturbing look at how mental illnesses ravage families and their victim. I really felt bad for Lizzie. Her "secret" is one that I think many people would carry with them if they were in the same situation as Lizzie and that made me feel sad for her. The closeness between the sisters makes the story that much more harrowing. Pixley created the world's most adorable mentally unstable characters I've met. Tess is so undeniably vivid and full of life but she is disturbingly sick. It's so evident and you want to pull your hair out because you know just how sick she is and you want her to get better. I felt like I WAS Lizzie for a while. The poetry weaved into the chapters was such a brilliant way to show us more of Tess's character. It foreshadowed enough without giving anything away and was perfect lyrical poetry. For once, I loved an ending that had a certain amount of closure and certainty. I'm usually a fan of ambiguous endings, but in this novel, I actually loved the ending.

The Bad: Even though I really enjoyed this novel, it was one of those that I know in a week, month or year I will have forgotten it. There wasn't enough "Umph" to make it amazing. It was simply an emotional, well written story. The one thing I really disliked was that I wanted to know more about Tess's mental illness. We never get to know what type it is, or how it affects her. We just know she has this mental illness. I would have liked to know exactly what type of odds she was against.

Overall, this was a really great look at childhood mental illness and a sad but beautiful story of a sister coming to terms with her sister's death. I would give this book a B-!

**I received this book free from the publisher through [...]. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
Wonderfully dark Jan. 2 2012
By Khy - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I've read so many novels centering around dead family members that I'm never too excited to read another even if it does have a promising summary. It takes a lot for one of these stories to stand out, and, to my delight, Without Tess managed to have enough of a dark side to differentiate it from all the other "dead family" books I've come across.

What makes this book stand out is its emphasis on the relationship between Lizzie and Tess before Tess passed away. In fact, I would say more of the book is made up of memories and flashbacks than of the present, which I often disliked as much as I liked. Because of the immense amount of time spent in the past, it never really seemed like Lizzie went through that much growth in the present. I never felt like I got to know the people who were trying to help her, which made it harder for me to see how exactly what influence they had upon her, or even how they tried to get over Tess's death themselves.

However, despite that qualm, I loved the time set in the past and always wanted even more. There's something frightening and magical about the way Tess is characterized through Lizzie's stories and her own included poetry; she begins as whimsical and imaginative but as the novel goes on there is a psychotic dark side that appears so subtly but powerfully that I was always compelled to keep reading to find out what Tess was really all about. I also enjoyed this past narration because it provided a basis for much of the rest of the characters' actions in the present, because Tess's influence was so powerful that it carried on years later into even the lives of people she wasn't close to.

Despite my initial skepticism because of the unassuming premise, I found Without Tess to be surprisingly dark but beautifully written and compelling novel.