Losing a friend is very traumatic. We've all been through it. Worse yet is the loss of a best friend. But imagine how devastating it would be to lose your best friend while traveling in a foreign country. And then suppose that the trip was your idea.
Picture yourself as Esther Waring, a footloose 20-something British youth who believes herself world-wise, beautiful and intelligent. Your traveling companion is Gemma, a somewhat reticent young woman and your best friend on and off since childhood. She's the less daring, more plain and sensible of the two of you. You're the bold, come-what-may type who scoffs at preplanning, reservations, and rules. Put yourself in Esther's shoes as you read this intriguing novel.
When the pair leaves for India, Esther carries the burden of a dark secret along with her backpack. She wants to tell Gemma and clear the air but she just can't seem to find the right time. She vacillates between the realization of her betrayal and the conviction that she's done nothing to be ashamed of. Esther can rationalize almost anything. But as their escapade begins to spiral out of control, she must face herself square on and decide the real truth. To aid in the unraveling, a free spirit named Coral inserts herself into their journey and becomes a catalyst for hostilities to surface, inciting bickering and jealousies among the lifelong friends.
What began as a great adventure turns sour when Esther returns home to England without Gemma. Guilt consumes her as she tries to make sense of what happened, what made things go so terribly wrong. Unless she can find the answers, she will remain forever haunted by that disastrous summer. Thus, her next journey is much more critical than the first.
Underlying the main theme is Esther's examination of her personal motives, which allows her a chance to be honest with herself. Gemma's own incentives subtly come into focus as she grows more familiar to us. The development of characters and the plot slowly unfold during the first half of LOSING GEMMA. Little mysteries merge and build to pique the reader's interest, and the story quietly gathers speed. Once firmly in its grip, you won't want to put the book down. The suspense will carry you through to the surprise ending.
The story is both rough edged and poignant. The two friends, so different in their approaches to life, personify the adage "opposites attract." Then again, their conflicts demonstrate how opposites clash --- in this case with catastrophic results. The love-hate aspect of relationships weaves in and out of the chapters, and friendship as a concept becomes almost paradoxical.
Katy Gardner has given us a hard look at friendship, which proves at times exasperating, at times invaluable. While the characters in this book are young, the lessons learned transcend chronological age.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on April 2, 2002