“Half my life ago, I killed a girl.” begins acclaimed author Darin Strauss’ intimate account of a regular day turned tragically inside out and upside down. As shockingly written as any first sentence of a harrowingly told tale, the shock lies in this being the true story of 16 year old Celine Zilke inexplicably swerving into 18 year old Strauss’ car, leaving her dead and Strauss forever changed.

Strauss was not cited. The Long Island police declared the accident completely unavoidable and the insurance company agreed. The books and any potential case were closed. Life could officially continue on. Yet, being absolved of any blame or fault didn’t erase the fact that Celine Zilke was dead and Darin Strauss was involved in her death. These two facts stayed with Strauss, affecting his life in profound and different ways.

Strauss has bravely exposed himself, sharing the complex emotions of grief, anger, fear, guilt and egocentrism he experienced in the years that followed the accident. Processing her death was complicated. Was it an accident? Could he have done something differently? Did Celine want to die? Why on earth would she turn into traffic? In addition to the unrelenting questions swirling in his head, he wrestled with his feelings (what they were, what they should be) and how to fit into a world that now knew him in relation to Celine’s death.

College out of town was a bit of a reprieve. Yet Celine was always with him, not experiencing the things he was able to experience. Creating relationships with new friends or women proved challenging. At what point do you share with someone this part of your past? Celine haunted him, shaped him and helped to create the man and writer that he is today. In fact, Strauss shares that her death likely lead to his work as a writer.

I can’t imagine such a fate. To have known you were involved in another person’s death is incomprehensible and emotionally devastating to me. Still, these types of unimaginable situations happen everyday. While families and communities mourn the loss of life, rarely is time or attention is spent on those who were spared. Half a Life give us that perspective in a completely raw, vulnerable and realistic way.

Rating: 4 stars
Pages: 204
Genre: Memoir