Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.
In certain ways, One for Sorrow could have been one of those books aimed at young adult readers. The protagonist is a teenager finding his place in the world, whether it's discovering friendship, love, or his place in his family. The language supports this form as it's relatively accessible and easy to read, all the while dealing with serious issues and heavy subject matter such as romance and loyalty to family.
A recurring theme of the novel is running and I appreciated how the first few pages of the book not only prepares you for it but presents it in a stylish way. As for the prose, it's rich in detail and Barzak presents a complex and multi-layered world, sometimes to the point of being contradictory (and isn't the real world full of contradictions?). His strength however lies in his characterization and he makes the reader sympathize with the protagonist who is very much convincing as a struggling teenager. His tone is consistent all throughout and combines elements of realism and fantasy seamlessly. Worthy to note are his inclusion of details that while unnecessary, gives the novel that extra layer of credibility, such as the hero's penchant for jotting down his observations when it comes to the dead (and the living).
One for Sorrow was a quick and enjoyable read, tugging at your emotions at appropriate times and the author certainly shows skill in his craft. It's certainly a unique coming of age story that'll appeal to you whether you're young or old. However, while this is a welcome addition to my reading list, it's not what I'd consider one of those essential books that you simply must buy. I like the alternative that it offers and I can't complain about the technical skill of Barzak but overall, it wasn't particularly striking. Did it achieved its goals? Definitely. Did it make a lasting impact? Not as much as I wished it would.