Published: October 3, 2017
Not every mistake deserves a consequence. Sometimes the only thing it deserves is forgiveness.
The Voss family is anything but normal. They live in a repurposed church, newly baptized Dollar Voss. The once cancer-stricken mother lives in the basement, the father is married to the mother’s former nurse, the little half-brother isn’t allowed to do or eat anything fun, and the eldest siblings are irritatingly perfect. Then, there’s Merit.
Merit Voss collects trophies she hasn’t earned and secrets her family forces her to keep. While browsing the local antiques shop for her next trophy, she finds Sagan. His wit and unapologetic idealism disarm and spark renewed life into her—until she discovers that he’s completely unavailable. Merit retreats deeper into herself, watching her family from the sidelines when she learns a secret that no trophy in the world can fix.
Fed up with the lies, Merit decides to shatter the happy family illusion that she’s never been a part of before leaving them behind for good. When her escape plan fails, Merit is forced to deal with the staggering consequences of telling the truth and losing the one boy she loves.
I just finished listening to Without Merit by Colleen Hoover and had tears of joy in my eyes. I had also laughed out loud at parts of the book and normally I abhor comedy or humor of any kind in books, movies, etc., but every member of the Voss family (the main focus of the book) are so dysfunctional that the humor somehow fit.
Merit Voss lives in a converted church with her father, stepmother, and siblings, and although her parents have been divorced for years, her mother still lives in the basement, struggling with social anxiety.(We initially think she is recovering from cancer) No one in her family is religious, so her brother Utah updates the church marquee every day with fun facts instead of Bible verses. Merit is less accomplished than her identical twin sister, Honor, so she likes to buy used trophies to celebrate her failures. But Honor seems to have a fetish for terminally ill boys, so it’s a surprise to Merit when Sagan, who is perfectly healthy, kisses Merit after mistaking her for her sister—and then reveals that he’s living in their house.
Soon they have another houseguest, Luck, whose connection to the family makes Merit even more convinced she’s living in a madhouse.(He is the half-brother of her step-mother) So why is everyone so angry at her? Merit has a love/hate relationship with her sister. She’s conflicted by her feelings for Sagan, who leaves intriguing sketches around the house for her to decipher. She’s simultaneously intrigued and repulsed by Luck, who annoys her with his questions but is also her confidant. She can’t sit through dinner without starting a fight; she’s been skipping school for days; and when she decides to give her whole family the silent treatment, Sagan is the only one who notices. In fact, he and Luck are the only people in the house who recognize Merit’s quirks for what they really are—cries for help.(They believe she is suffering from depression) And when Merit takes drastic measures to be heard, the fallout is both worse and much better than she feared. The author does an excellent job of revealing the subtle differences between healthy teenage rebellion and clinical depression, and Merit’s aha moment is worthy of every trophy in her collection.
Merit is quirky, complex, and frustrating but will win hearts and challenge assumptions about family dysfunction and mental illness in a life-affirming story that redefines what’s normal.
Side Note – Sagan is swoon worthy and has been added to my list of Book Boyfriends.