If you want to read an emotional book about second chances and sisters, then pick up The Art of Losing. This book is tender, moving, and full of surprises.
On one terrible night, 17-year-old Harley Langston’s life changes forever. At a party she discovers her younger sister, Audrey, hooking up with her boyfriend, Mike—and she abandons them both in a rage. When Mike drunkenly attempts to drive Audrey home, he crashes and Audrey ends up in a coma. Now Harley is left with guilt, grief, pain and the undeniable truth that her ex-boyfriend (who is relatively unscathed) has a drinking problem.
So it’s a surprise that she finds herself reconnecting with Raf, a neighbor and childhood friend who’s recently out of rehab and still wrestling with his own demons. At first Harley doesn’t want to get too close to him. But as Audrey awakens and slowly recovers, Raf starts to show Harley a path forward that she never would have believed possible—one guided by honesty, forgiveness, and redemption.
The Art of Losing is a book about guilt. It’s a book about addiction, loss, and love. But it’s also about family, sisters, and toxic relationships. There’s so much to discover about The Art of Losing and for exactly that reason, I think this will mean a lot to teens. Having never had a sister I was close to like Harley and Audrey, this book made me emotional beyond words. I was feeling the loss of never having this relationship, but also Harley’s acute guilt and the way the secrets were eating her up inside. The Art of Losing will make you want to hold your loved ones tight, to not judge a book by its cover, and to believe in yourself.
I’m going to start by talking about some themes and issues talked about in The Art of Losing. And I’m going to start off with the one that you are introduced to first. In The Art of Losing there’s this complicated mess of guilt. A spider web of cracks, moments missed, and regrets. Not only does Harley have to deal with the guilt over not having driven her sister home that night, she is also battling the betrayal and pain she feels after Audrey’s actions. So there’s this inner war that just creates a cycle of guilt where she then feels guilty for being mad at her sister.
But what I also appreciated about The Art of Losing is that Mason lets us in on the ways other characters feel the guilt. Her parents for not being stricter or the girl who hosted the party, or even the guy who brought alcohol. This one incident creates a ripple effect in the community and Harley’s world. And then we have the question – what do we do with this? Do we let this instance teach us something? About the abuse of alcohol in our midst? Of our desire to escape?
Not only is guilt and our processing of guilt an important part of the book, but also what we do with our guilt. Do we let it change us and motivate us into becoming a better person? Or do we let it twist inside us as just another reason to lose ourselves?
Toxic relationships & addiction
This brings me to this perfect connection to toxic relationships and addiction. Characters grapple with how they could have changed it, and when Harley could have seen the signs coming. If she had only broken up with Mike before, or if she hadn’t walked in on them, and this thread stretches to infinity. Mason allows us to see within Harley’s dilemma by bringing forth memories from the past. We are able to witness the events that unfolded, the little moments, the seconds we second guess from the present. The way it can take one clear strike to fracture these hairline fractures that have been brewing for years. Or maybe the way it only takes a moment, a hard push, to fall through.
And through this, we see the ways Harley examines her relationship. How she was willing to make it work, when the signs were there all along. The times in which we had limits, and they were dismissed, whether that be with a quick wave, or constant erosion. Connected to this, through both Mike and Raf we witness not only the effects of addicts, but those around them. The strain it puts on their families, friends, and the constant struggle to remain sober.
Family & Sisters
And this brings me to my most precious theme – sisters. Harley looks at the ways her sister tried to mimic Harley. How everything Harley had, Audrey also wanted. The way we both feel responsible for our sisters, but also want to be our own person. The give and take, the push and pull, of sisterhood, limits, and love. Not only does Mason show us this relationship through Harley’s perspective, but also through Harley’s best friend whose relationship with her siblings is not at all the same, calling them the Nuisance (which is more akin to my relationship). Not only that, but Harley’s mom has a sister too, and so Mason introduces us to these myriad representations of sisterhood. What it means and the responsibilities it entails.
I appreciate Mason’s writing style where everything has a meaning, a purpose, a reflection. Whether it be the multiple portrayal of sisters, of struggles with addiction, or even parenting, Mason gives us options. Allows us to see ourselves in more than one family, more than one situation. And combined with a heart wrenching plot, this book brought me to tears on multiple occasions. I could go on about the plot and how clever I felt it was, or even just talk about more of the characters I loved, but I wanted to just highlight the things that really stood out to me.