“If you made me see my mom, ” I whisper through the glass case, almost angry, like a hiss, "then make her come back."
~Riley, SIGNS OF YOU
So what is SIGNS OF YOU about? Loss, grief, friendship, family, mystery...the human condition...it's about EVERYTHING. Our main character Riley and her three friends Kate, Jay and Noah have been tied together by loss. Each of them has suffered the passing of a loved one which has understandably discolored and changed their worlds. As if grief isn't hard enough to manage on its own, the plot gets thrown for a loop when 3 out of the 4 characters happen to see their deceased loved ones. These strange sightings start to grow in complexity, raising more and more questions, all which seem to lead back to a religious artifact Jay's father collected. I don't want to go into the plot too much because I think it's important for it to grab you by the heartstrings without you knowing what's coming, but let me tell you, I had visceral reactions. I cried, I gripped the pages of the book so tight my knuckles turned white, I whispered "Oh my god, Oh my god that is brilliant," out loud over and over. France weaves a plot that has layers, a beautiful mixture of mystery being unraveled and an idea of the afterlife that I have frankly never seen in literature before. I was in awe of how unique the storyline was.
But as you guys know based on my other reviews, the treasured gems in a story are usually the characters for me. And god does France write a quartet of characters that mix into your bone marrow. I saw myself in them, I saw my own battles with grief and the guilt that can tighten around your neck after you lose someone. These friends are so close they are the people that can speak with glances, that know each other's thoughts before they are spoken. As with any group of teen friends, the empty spaces between their sad and heavy heartbeats are filled with humor. The sort of slapstick, comfortable banter you expect between best friends, and those moments balance out the sadder themes of the book perfectly. They are teens, and there is and never will be any teen dynamic that doesn't come with moments of tension, misunderstanding, jealousy or annoyance. Despite that, you can feel how tightly Kate, Jay, Noah and Riley are bound. The growth in these characters, they way they all start discovering new layers to each other as they try and figure out what's happening around them, was flawlessly done. It bleeds into the general plot, subtle and not trying too hard, but you are aware of it with every turn of a page. Reading about them will make you want to text your person or people, the ones you know you can call at 2am because when they say they are always there for you they mean it.
I really wish I could talk more about how in love I am with the plot. At first I wasn't sure if this was going to turn into a book tinged with supernatural mystery, or if it would be more psychologically designated. In the end it was both, and it left me with such a strange feeling of peaceful calm at the end of it. If you like a book with a powerful ending that makes you feel like you're snuggling under a soft blanket and enjoying a cup of hot cocoa that's warming you up from the inside out, then you will love this book. If you love a book that stays with you after you've stopped reading, that serves as more than just a good read but as a door that opens your mind up to thoughts, questions, and reflections on your own thoughts about life and what comes after, you will love this book.