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Winter is just the worst. It's all fun and games in December, when it's holiday time and the little colored lights twinkle in the dark and the snow falling on your shoulders as you carry shopping bags to your car seems festive and cheery. Now, it's February, everyone's over it, but the snow keeps falling and how many more weeks do we have to put up with this nonsense? 

We had more snow on Monday morning, piling up on top of the snow that had fallen last week (last week! That old snow had been sitting there for multiple days without melting! What fresh hell is this? Canada?). The pets were firmly ensconced on their respective couches, surrounded by their respective blankets. Animals always know the right thing to do in extreme weather. Unfortunately, Monday is grocery shopping day, and I am not the kind of person who can blithely forgo dinner. That's how I ended up outside yesterday at 9:00 am, in Adam's snowpants, rage-shoveling our driveway in front of an appreciative audience of at least four neighbors.

In case you're not familiar, this particular method of snow removal involves repeatedly kicking the shovel to wedge it under packed-down snow, followed by tossing the loosened snow shards aside with a loud grunt in the style of female tennis players. There's also a lot of under-the-breath cursing, about which I don't think I need to go into detail here. While rage-shoveling may not be efficient, it will make your face look like a sweaty tomato.

Today, with the snow (mostly) cleared off our driveway and warmer temperatures in the forecast, I was able to focus my energies back on reading, and I was rewarded with this awesome book. People often describe books like this as “gripping” or “heart-stopping,” and while both may be apt, I'm going to try to avoid cliches. Instead, I'll tell you this book so absorbed me, I did extra minutes on the exercise bike just so I could finish it. That sounds so crazy I feel like I need to reiterate: this book caused me to exercise more than I intended to when I began. First we had snow on top of snow, and now I'm willingly prolonging the torture of physical exertion. It's been a weird few days.

The book follows two primary characters and their dysfunctional, messed-up families: Patrick, a convenience store clerk, and Layla, a teenage goth girl. Patrick is immobilized by guilt; he turned his father in to the police for killing a child while driving drunk, and now his dad is in prison. Patrick wanted to do the right thing, but his brother Mike is furious with him for betraying their dad. Then, because his relationship with his brother isn't tense enough, Patrick crosses a line with Mike's girlfriend, Caro, who is busy ignoring her own troubled past.

Layla's father is a pastor who runs an abstinence ministry. Once the literal poster child for virginity, Layla has decided she's had enough of her parents and religion, and rebels in all the ways one would expect. Her younger sister Verna watches with concern as Layla cavorts around in fishnets and layers of black eyeliner. Bullied horribly at school and desperate for a way to belong, Verna allows herself to be sucked into Layla's group of friends, led by a sinister, black-clad boy who calls himself Justinian.

Even though the chapters alternate between their two mostly separate lives, Patrick and Layla are inextricably connected. You can tell the fuse has been lit, the explosion of their combined desperation is coming, but you won't be prepared for the impact when the climactic scene arrives.

This book is one of the darkest I've read in recent memory. Even as I cringed reading some of the passages, even as I shuddered at what the characters did to themselves and each other, I never once wanted to put the book down. If it had been a movie, I would have clapped my hands over my eyes and watched some parts through the slits between my fingers. The point is, though, I still would have watched.