Otis and Meg were neighbors, best friends and sweethearts, until tragedy left Otis’ little brother dead and both families shattered. It’s been three years since the accident, since Meg’s family moved away, since Otis has heard from her. He’s coped with his grief by joining forces with 18-year-old Dara, who’s determined to make him the Olympic swimmer she once dreamed of becoming. But when Meg suddenly announces she’ll be returning for the summer, Otis realizes it’s time to make some big decisions about what he can hold onto and what he must leave behind in order to move forward.
Phantom Limbs treats teenage love—romantic and platonic—in a manner at once lighthearted and heartbreakingly poignant. Otis is a refreshingly authentic male protagonist, who will win readers over as he navigates his way through his grief and the impact it’s had on his relationships with friends and family. While Meg is a sweet character, it’s Otis’ swim coach and best friend, Dara, who steals the focus for much of the book, using caustic humor to cover both her sincere affection for Otis and several layers of deep-seated trauma.
The power of Garner’s debut novel is understated as it unites three teens who are working through the heartaches that define their individual and collective pasts and threaten to overtake their futures. It’s not a light read, but Garner’s elegant prose makes for an uplifting story about resilience and the power of relationships.
By Paula Garner
This review was originally written for and posted on BookPage.