It’s been almost two years since Melissa’s father lost his long-fought battle to cancer. She keeps him alive by remembering the unusual information he loved, like the fact that glass takes a million years to decay. These interesting tidbits offer the high school freshman a new way of looking at the world, but they don’t provide any guidance on how to grow up and work through her continuing grief.
While her older sister Ashley begins preparing for beauty pageants, following in the footsteps of their gorgeous mother, who has started dating again, plainer Melissa just wants everything to remain the same. At least she can depend on Ryan, her childhood friend who still likes to ride bikes in the river wash behind their Phoenix desert homes—until curvy, confident Courtney transfers to their school and immediately sets her sights on Ryan. And Melissa has always thought she could depend on her adoring father’s impeccable reputation, until she discovers clues about a woman from his past.
As she dates a popular senior athlete (as much a surprise to her as it is to the rest of the school), all the while hiding her envy of Ryan and his new girlfriend, Melissa achingly ponders beauty, jealousy, secrets and the signs of first love. Instead of seeking out the answers to her family’s mysteries, she realizes that she can fill in the gaps with her own stories. And taking her father’s facts and wisdom to heart, she also realizes that relationships are like glass: they may break into pieces around you, but those pieces stay with you forever.
In Jillian Cantor’s expressive, eloquently rendered coming-of-age novel, The Life of Glass, the broken-glass motif echoes throughout Melissa’s heartfelt story of love and resilience. Cantor’s pitch-perfect narration and spot-on depiction of emotional turmoil will remind readers of the exquisite fragility of adolescence.
Angela Leeper is a librarian at the University of Richmond.