Darin Strauss was driving with his friends to a miniature golf course when a sixteen year-old girl veered her bicycle across two lanes and into the path of his Oldsmobile. Celine Zilke's death that night changed eighteen-year old Strauss forever; he knew he would always be "the guy who killed a girl". He drifted through the remaining months of school trying to mourn for Celine and overcome his guilt, but could not escape building the foundation of his adult identity around their accident. Half a Life unfolds with great quietude the next eighteen years of Strauss's life as he faces a lawsuit from the Zilkes and the oncoming pressures of adulthood.
"How could I put words to the thick, gloomy thing that covered my mind...?" Strauss wonders around halfway through Half A Life. The answer, unfortunately, is that it's not easy. The grief and guilt that afflicts Strauss throughout his memoir is impossible to reason with; it is at once crass and elegant, both simple and relentlessly complicated. Strauss gives his readers the most honest rendition of his impossible feelings and creates a heart-wrenching confessional that swells with pathos. Frustrating at times and stunning at others, Half a Life achieves something so devastatingly human through all of its imperfections.
"But I didn't yet know that there are some truths-that even young people die occasionally; that there's only so much gnashing of teeth and weeping over another person's tragedy-there are some truths that only come to us softened by beautiful stratagems of self-deception."
But the importance of Half a Life spans much further than its form and execution; Half a Life reminds us how connected lives can be. Readers who have lived with similar grief will surely find Strauss's unflinching honesty to be deeply heartening, but there is an equally important message to those readers who haven't experienced a trauma. Half a Life humbly presents Strauss as a peer and shows how important it is to nurture each other as we struggle to understand ourselves.