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.