Ashley Schumacher’s debut novel Amelia Unabridged gently, yet fearlessly, explores the debilitating nature of grief and trying to find one’s place in the universe. Perhaps the most sobering truth to learn as a young adult is that we are not guaranteed tomorrow.
As young adults we think of death as a wave far off in the distance, coming only for those who have lived a full life. We are on the shore, dipping our toes in the water and trying to figure out our place in the universe. When death’s riptide carries away a life that barely started, we are left drowning, wondering if we’ll ever break the surface again.
In Amelia Unabridged, 18-year-old Amelia Griffin comes face-to-face with this truth after her best friend Jenna dies in a freak car accident. However, it’s not just grief that wracks Amelia’s heart, but also guilt. In her last moments with Jenna, they had one of their worst fights. To make matters worse, Jenna planned their college future together, including what school they would attend and which majors they’d study. Amelia isn’t even sure she what wants for college anymore, yet still feels bound by the desires of her now deceased friend.
Guilt-ridden and heartbroken, Amelia finds herself at rock bottom until a mysterious package shows up to her house. The package contains an extremely rare first edition copy of her and Jenna’s favorite book series, The Orman Chronicles, by N. E. Endsley.
Despite the bookstore the package came from denying Jenna’s involvement, Amelia finds herself convinced that the book came from Jenna and that she was trying to tell her something. Her investigations take her to the enchanting bookstore in Michigan, where she is shocked to discover the standoffish, recluse author, N. E. Endsley himself. He was the reason for her and Jenna’s final big fight and perhaps the only person in the world who knows what Jenna wanted to tell her.
While heavy in its subject matter, Schumacher manages to explore these raw and crushing emotions with great tenderness. Amelia has been run through the tragedy gauntlet, yet Schumacher doesn’t glorify the pain and suffering but rather shows a young woman quietly going through the grief of losing a friend. My favorite way Schumacher does this is through the imagery of floating whales calmly swimming through the trees or bookshelves in Amelia’s mind. These whales comfort Amelia and guard her from the pain of reality. It is both melancholy and enchanting to read.
Melancholy and enchanting are also the perfect words to describe the aesthetic of this book. It’s set in a small Michigan town near a gloomy lake with a lighthouse and yet also home to the most charming bookstore. (I never have wanted to be transported to a place so badly!)
Despite being a shorter story, I feel like I know the characters’ deepest desire and darkest secrets. The characters come across as completely alive and fleshed out. Amelia’s struggle with finding what kind of story she wants to tell with her life rings strong and true, and I’m sure many young adults, like myself, will resonate with her existential uncertainty.
Finally, the love story is absolutely breathtaking and heartfelt. While some may complain that the romance moves too quickly, may I just say that trauma has a way of bonding people together unlike anything else? The way these two characters mend each other’s broken souls makes my insides melt into a pile of feels.
At the end of the day, this novel is for anyone who is hurting or feels lost. Perhaps you just lost a loved one or experienced some kind of tragedy that has left you spinning. Maybe you’re at a crossroads in college or in your career, and you don’t know if you should turn left or right or just turn back around. Amelia Unabridged is just the medicine for your soul.
Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher was released on Feb. 16, 2021.