Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/2
Content Warnings: alcoholism, grief, hospice care, violence
I love reading books that I know will emotionally gut me from start to finish. I love stories about siblings even though I’m an only child (Literally, any stories about brothers just….*grabby hands*). I love stories bursting the page with hope (*super grabby hands*). And if you’re a weirdo like me that loves all of the above, then you are going to love K.M. Walton’s YA contemporary novel Ultimatum.
Ultimatum is about teenage brothers, Oscar and Vance, who struggle to cope with the inevitability of becoming orphans as their father dies in hospice from liver failure. Oscar is a quiet music nerd with a talent for drawing and Vance is the athlete who loves to party and always seems to get the girl. The book is told in alternating chapters, with Oscar narrating the present as their dad passes away and Vance narrates the past leading up to the brother’s present. Masterfully told and beautifully written, this is a story about the growth that can emerge from loss and what it really means to be a family. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone in the mood for something dark with lots of hope and tender moments mixed in.
The best part of this book are the characters and the way that Walton reveals them to us bit by bit throughout the novel. I loved reading about Oscar’s love for music. His fear and nervousness was relatable, as someone who’s dealt with a close relative in hospice care. I also loved Vance. Walton takes the archetype of the irresponsible, partying Jock and plays with it in really interesting ways that were surprising and heart wrenching. Walton crafts equally intriguing secondary characters, from Oscar and Vance’s parents to the nurses. Every character was clearly created with care.
I also thought that the representation of the highs and lows and long days of hospice car was done really, really well. As someone who’s been there with several relatives, it was sometimes tough to read, but oddly comforting as well. Walton captures every moment of it with precision.
This book also does a great job of discussing the issues of family, from cheating to alcoholism to sibling rivalries. Reading about how this family fell apart was kind of uncomfortable, because you know how it ends and just have to go along for the ride. It’s a read packed with emotion and I was on the edge of my seat towards the end of the book, when the boys have to make a tough decision.
Overall, I loved this book. I look forward to reading other books by Walton and I hope some of you will add this book to your TBR. It’s a quiet, poignant masterpiece. This is such a lovely, lovely underrated book that will break your heart and then put it back together. You don’t want to miss it.