The Land of 10,000 Madonnas
By Kate Hattemer
Expected publication April 19, 2016 by Knopf
Reviewed from e-ARC
Jesse knew he wouldn't live forever, even if he lived in a house full of Madonnas - his heart condition assured a tragically young end. But, before he went, he made sure to arrange a mysterious trip to Europe for his cousins and friends - maybe a quest that he couldn't fulfill, maybe just a way to help them through their grief. They won't know until they get there.
I can certainly understand fixations and collections - I'm 99% sure I legitimately have bibliomania (and the hundreds of unread books in my house would surely agree) and that's not my only focus of intense fascination. So, the idea of someone fixating on collecting images of the Madonna - that appealed to the collector in me, even more so because it didn't seem to be a collection grown out of spiritual or religious underpinnings. Additionally, I always appreciate a story that explores grief and how differently it can manifest from one person to another.
One of the things I loved most about this book is that the first character we meet is Jesse - Jesse, the boy who is dead by the time the actual plot of the novel is taking place. Jesse was as much a main character here as any of the other living characters and I really felt like I knew him. Starting the book with Jesse made it easy for me to understand why the other characters felt as they did for him. I liked that we spent time with each character and understood how their grief was impacting their lives - it was different for each of them, just as it is in real life. They also all had different relationships with Jesse when he was alive, so I think that's important, too. I liked seeing the relationships between the five of them develop as well - though I would have preferred if the two females were not quite so antagonistic towards each other. I really enjoyed some of the finer details of the book - Plagueslist, Ben's preference for postcards, the focus on Michelangelo, etc. - but other parts of the book were not explored quite to my liking - Matt (the character as a whole), Cal's heel pain.
My main problem with the book, though, is the trip itself. It felt almost unnecessary for them to actually go - most of what they accomplished seemed like it could have been done just as easily if they had simply all gathered together and discussed things. Since Hattemer had them actually on the trip in Europe, I also expected a more definite end to their quest - once Jesse (in the journal he left behind) acknowledges that the reason for the trip is not what he believed, I expected the other characters to have a more meaningful moment with Arnold.
Overall, though, I enjoyed this book and think it will appeal to fans of contemporary realistic teen fiction. Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.