Book Review: “Can’t Look Away” by Donna Cooner

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Can’t Look Away by Donna Conner tells the story of Torrey Grey, teenage fashion blogger extraordinaire, after her younger sister Miranda is killed by a drunk driver. It’s an old story with a new twist—grief is a common trope in YA literature, and rightly so, as it’s important for teens experiencing loss to see their struggles acknowledged in fiction. What’s new is Torrey’s life as a YouTube sensation, something that would have been alien to readers even a decade ago, but is completely compelling to readers now.

Torrey and her family moved to Texas after Miranda’s death to be closer to family, so in addition to dealing with her sister’s absence, Torrey must also adjust to a new school. The most intriguing thing about this book is probably the fact that Torrey isn’t totally likeable. She readily admits that her internet fame arose from a type of exhibitionist vanity, and in the novel’s flashback sequences it’s almost painful to watch Torrey fight with her sister, especially knowing that Miranda dies and that Torrey is in the wrong. Even at her new school, Torrey’s primary concern is how to establish herself as one of the most popular girls in school. She’s just not very nice.

But that’s the very thing that makes her journey so interesting to watch. Torrey may not be the nicest girl around, but she is young girl who has gone through a great loss and many big life changes in just a few months time. I’d say most fifteen-year-olds would probably get inflated egos if they’d been offered sponsorships and had millions of YouTube hits. The best thing about Torrey is that she knows she has acted sort of like a jerk. The reader gets to see her struggle with her sense of identity and place, as well as her guilt over the death of her sister.

Plus, if Torrey is a bit unlikable, Cooner completely makes up for it by have two excellent supporting characters: Luis, the former football star turned social outcast who works at his family’s funeral home, and Raylene, the way-too-nice to be related to Torrey cousin with a thick accent and obsession with becoming a baton twirler. The presence of these two really liven up the story, and I’d love to read more about them.

All in all, Can’t Look Away is a quick, interesting read, and while it may not be my favorite book ever, it is interesting to see how today’s internet trends are working themselves into contemporary fiction.