Ava’s fathers move her and her two siblings from NYC to a Bed & Breakfast in Gin Harbour, Nova Scotia to be part of a reality TV show. (“It’s Jon and Kate Plus 8 meets The Simple Life meets Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. It’s a feel-good family show for the modern era!“) From the beginning, at the age of twelve, Ava is deeply resentful of this move and of having her life publicized to the world.
Ava on her new home…
It was the third elderly couple they had seen, hair as white and wispy as the fog they were driving through. Ava was beginning to think there wasn’t a single person in Gin Harbour under the age of thirty-four.
… sometimes she did stop at the beach and sit on a rock and watch the ocean. The water was grey and cold, the rocky beaches covered in rotting seaweed and seagull shit, broken mussel shells so sharp they sliced into the bottoms of your feet like tiny steel blades. But even still, she supposed the North Atlantic was kind of beautiful.
The love and attention they used to receive from their fathers change; the men become preoccupied with their new career and all the ups and downs. In addition, the closeness Ava had with her siblings begins to drift until there are times over the next several years that they are not even speaking.
It’s not entirely surprising that Ava ends up feeling alone and unloved – she pushes people away with her anger and attitude. In one word, Ava is unpleasant. Sometimes she can’t even stand herself. Her experiences have taught her that “love doesn’t actually exist“.
How had this happened? She was so angry all the time, so mean, so sad. She had become a vibrating mass of restless energy, a seething ball of need. Some days it seemed like all she did was eat and masturbate, one hand in a chip bowl and the other snaked down the front of her underwear in some kind of fever dream, desperately trying to make it all stop. But no matter how many cupcakes she shoved in her mouth, no matter how many furtive orgasms she gave herself under the covers at night, it was still there, this violent ache in the deepest part of her. Every waking minute full of wanting. And the problem was, she didn’t even know what she wanted. Except that it was everything. She wanted everything.
Mags is the lead singer of a Halifax rock band she helped build with her husband – the man she’s been with since she was 15 years old. After his death (which is something we find out about in the first chapter) she loses direction – doesn’t know who she is or what she wants – she just keeps going, letting others drag her along.
Mags feels like she’s on fire and doesn’t know how to put out the flames. Instead, she steels herself against “all the tender, delicate, beautiful things that threaten to undo her“.
For the rest of the tour, Emiko kept feeding her pills – enough to keep her floating above her grief, the pain present but bearable, the tears a permanent salty slick on her cheeks. And afterward, when she came down from the pills, she would start to drink. She told herself it was to help her sleep, to eradicate those dreams that woke her in a panic every morning – where was she? what was she doing? where was Sam? – the alcohol instantly dissolving those walls in her head that kept things organized, grief leaking out everywhere, messy and beautiful and strange.
Ava and Mags
Ultimately, Mags and Ava are just playing parts. Ava doesn’t know what it’s like to be herself; without the cameras and the scripts telling her what to say and how to say it, and her “fans” recognizing her in the streets.
Was she afraid that without script editing and colour correcting, without the gleam of the key light softening her features and the boom mic capturing the slightest nuance of her voice, she would discover she didn’t really exist at all?
Mags doesn’t know how to live without her husband, the band, the singing. So she just keeps going, even though the grief is killing her. What and who would she be without it?
She couldn’t just be Mags Kovach, person with a job. She had to play a part. And her reward was the singing, it was true. But for the first time, she wondered if that was going to be enough.
Peppered through the book there are social media reports, blurbs, and comments about the events taking place in the lives of Ava and Mags. For example, Ava and her sister Eden become pitted against each other as #TeamAva versus #TeamEden. And Mags has her performances analyzed on Twitter after each show: “OMG YOU GUYS MAGS KOVACH JUST RIPPED OFF HER CLOTHES AND PASSED OUT ON STAGE THEN CAME BACK OUT AND SLAYED FOR 2 HOURS LIKE A FUCKING QUEEN #alignaboveatmercerhall“.
She was setting herself on fire and everyone was just watching, cameras out, waiting to see how hot she would burn.
Despite the amount of tragedy in this book, it is smart and witty and full of life. It does not come across as bleak or morbid. How Amy Jones does this is a mystery to me, but a testament to her skills as a writer.
In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I loved this book. With humour and insight, Amy Jones goes deeper and darker with Every Little Piece of Me, exploring the dark side of media and social media, women’s issues, loss and grief, and the power of human connection.
“… when everyone suddenly knows your name, it’s easy to forget who you really are.”
Review at Atlantic Books Today: “In the latest book by Amy Jones, Every Little Piece of Me, the characters live in a world covered with Astroturf, are told it is real grass and are punished should they dream of lifting a corner.”
Review at The Star: “While on a deep dive researching celebrity Instagram accounts, Jones was shocked by the intensity with which some fans will claim ownership over complete strangers. She realized, too, how quickly that idolization can turn menacing. In the book, Jones’ anonymous commenters are a chorus of uninformed idiots, underscoring the cruelty and pressures faced by women in the public eye.”
Review at Quill & Quire: “Jones is a wicked prose stylist who doesn’t shy away from presenting the absolute worst sides of her characters… But Jones also reveals the acute pain and vulnerability Mags and Ava feel due to the untenable situations they find themselves in…. There is no subtlety here – part of the joy of Jones’s writing is her complete commitment to calling it like it is…”