Have you ever reread the last few chapters of a book mere hours after having finished it because the flood of emotions that it left you with was so great that you needed to experience them again because you just weren’t ready to let go? That is exactly what I did the last week after I finished Sarah Pekkanen’s Skipping a Beat…and I cried both times. I have to be honest, no matter how much a book affects me – and they do, I’m not one to shy away from laughing, smiling or crying whilst in the depths of one – it’s not often that I do this, in fact, it’s a rare occurrence. So rare, that I cannot remember the last time I did it, although I do remember the first.
I’m not sure what grade I was in, but I know that I was pretty young. For an English class, we had to read Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows. Now, I thought it was one of those books that everyone has to read as a child, but I asked Billy about it last week and he hadn’t even heard of it. It’s about a young boy named Billy (coincidence) who lives in the Ozarks. He desperately wanted Redbone Coonhounds (dogs to hunt coons with him), but his parents were too poor to buy them for him. One day, Billy sees an ad in the paper and resigns to earn the money himself. It takes him two years, but he finally gets two of them, brother and sister pups which he names Old Dan and Little Ann. Billy trains the pups to hunt and they go on hunting adventures together, until one day when they trap a mountain lion in a tree. The mountain lion goes to attack Billy, but Old Dan saves him, though it results in his death. A few days later, Little Ann, heartbroken, wanders to the mound where Old Dan is buried and dies as well. I remember being so upset about this that I immediately started rereading the book from the beginning just up until Billy gets the dogs, so that they would be alive again. I’m sure this may sound funny to some people, Melissa laughed at me when I told her about this, but to me it was very sad, and rereading part of it was absolutely necessary.
Skipping a Beat is about a husband and wife trying to re-find the love that they lost. Julia and Michael seem to have the perfect life. Julia owns a successful event-planning company and Michael is the president and founder of Drinkup – an enhanced water beverage that he concocted in the tiny kitchen of their first apartment – which is now worth billions. They live in a mansion on the outskirts of DC, with his and her bathrooms, attend parties and give to charities. But something is missing, something they haven’t had for a long time. In high school, they were known as Mike and Julie, having started dating in their junior year and moved to DC together after they graduated. They were so much in love and inseparable – they could talk for hours and never tire. Michael had big dreams of ensuring that they would never be poor again, and succeeded, but is there such a thing as too much?
The novel opens up with Julia setting up an event and Michael having a heart attack. He dies for just over four minutes, but it is in those little minutes that he makes the decision to change his/their life/lives. Knowing that Julia couldn’t possibly understand, he asks her to give him three weeks, and she reluctantly agrees. Throughout that time, Julia is mostly unaccepting and cold to Michael, and takes solace in the company of Isabelle, her best and only friend. It is only towards the end of these three weeks (and the novel) that she finally lets Michael in. But unfortunately, it’s too late. In a chapter that broke my heart, Michael dies and a few chapters later my heart broke again when Julia finds out that he knew three weeks was all that he had left. But then came the end and I dried my tears and smiled. Of course, my eyes were blinded with tears once more when I set back to reread the final chapters, but it needed to be done. Skipping a Beat has nothing in common with Where the Red Fern Grows, except my reaction towards it. It moved me so much that I needed to read it again, needed to feel the same rollercoaster of emotions – had I read Where the Red Fern Grows now, I probably would have reread the end instead of the beginning.
Pekkanen’s characters are so real and alive, leaping off the pages and engraining themselves into your brain; you love and dislike her characters at the same time – just like in real life. When they face despair, you cry, and when they find that silver lining, you smile. Skipping a Beat tugs at your heart. It shows you that you can find love again once it is lost, but you have to be willing to make the effort because it won’t be easy. Love, once lost, is hard to regain, but not impossible. At the core of this novel, that is the message that Pekkanen is sending. Don’t put things off. Carpe Diem! But also, pick up a copy of this book and read it…it really is amazing.