This book was well written and I really enjoyed going through the bibliography at the end and being able to add books to my "to read" shelf. I also found both Will and Mary Anne's thoughts on things I had read to be accurate and insightful.
But I didn't really like it. Part of it is because I tend not to like sappy-ness and this was sappy. As much as Schwalbe restrains himself from crying in front of his mom, he uses this book to vent his emotions. Yeah, I know that is not really a very empathetic or popular sentiment (his mom is dying of cancer, after all), but again I don't like sappy stuff. Another reason I didn't like it was that I found Mary Anne's religiousness to be absurd. Here is a woman who is educated and advanced for her years and yet she still has profound religious beliefs. Certainly it is a true story and so must be real, but I just couldn't get over her ridiculousness when it comes to God and the power of prayer for all things.
I was also a bit annoyed with the perfection of it all. I know, we can never say anything bad about the dead and that Mary Anne appears to have been an amazing woman, but I wanted Schwalbe to vent a bit; complain a bit; I mean certainly not everything in his life was always perfect, was it? I guess I wanted a bit more dimension; I wanted to see how he reconciled his negative feelings with it all. Instead, we just have the picture of a woman who did it all, was nice to everyone, never complained, and was the perfect Christian solder. If this was fiction, my review would have started with "BLECHH". Maybe I am just jealous, but it seemed too pottery-barn, after school special perfect for me.
Ultimately, it reminded me too much of The Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (which I just finished and found hard to digest) with the superstitious: "There was that morning in Florida when I was convinced that if we saw the manatees, Mom would have a good day. And I also realized that there was a different type of magical thinking--that certain things had to happen if Mom was to have the exit from life that she wanted. One of them was that Obama had to win the election. Another was that David Rohde had to come back safe." I guess I just felt like I should admire and respect these people, but ultimately they were not complex enough for me to find believable.
My favorite quotes were:
"Reading isn't the opposite of doing; it's the opposite of dying."
"Secrets, she felt, rarely explained or excused anything in real life, or were even all that interesting. People shared too much, she said, not too little. She thought you should be able to keep your private life private for any reason or for no reason."
"Readers are frequently reminded of the gulf between what people say and what they mean, and such moments prod us to become more attuned to gesture, tone, and language. After all, we each reveal ourselves through a dizzying number of what poker players call "tells"--verbal and visual clues that display true intention to anyone observant enough to notice them."