We all have mistakes we dwell on. Painful moments in our lives that we relive again and again as we internally self-flagellate. For Sebastian Cody that moment exists, and yet in a way, it also doesn’t. Now 14, Sebastian was only four years old when he fatally shot his infant sister, Lola. As a result, he doesn’t have any memories of it — just the knowledge of what he’s done.
In Bang, author Barry Lyga explores what happens in the ten years after the Cody family’s loss, as he delves into Sebastian’s strained relationship with his parents and friends. It never seems to be the right time for Sebastian and his mom to discuss Lola’s death: When she’s ready, he isn’t. When he broaches the subject, she shuts him down. Meanwhile, his father, the owner of the firearm in question, is no longer a part of his life. Nonetheless, the solitary teen finds a modicum of comfort in his friendship with his best and oldest friend, Evan, before he heads out to camp, and later that summer, with Aneesa, the teenage member of the Muslim family that moves in next door, as the pair start a YouTube channel making pizza together. Only as readers quickly discover, his childhood accident isn’t something Sebastian can seem to get over, even though time should have tempered some of his wounds. Instead, the teen’s thoughts get darker as he considers turning to a bullet to end his misery and guilt.
Lyga masterfully takes readers into Sebastian’s tortured mindset, while also illustrating his ability to compartmentalize the pain he’s experiencing, as well as his nascent crush on his newest friend who doesn’t know the grim particulars of his past. In fact, exploring Sebastian’s perspective and mental state also lets Lyga touch upon a myriad of issues like class privilege — Evan’s richer, gun-happy family isn’t very sensitive to this detail of Sebastian’s past — while his friendship and pizza-making project with Aneesa allow Sebastian to examine his own privilege against how she and her family are treated by others in their school and the world at large.
Fans of 13 Reasons Why will find a lot to like in Lyga’s latest — especially as his exploration of grief and tragedy fits in with how the recent Netflix series unpacks its own themes. Affecting, and unfortunately timely, Bang is a read that’s worth your inevitable heartbreak. B+