It worked! I went back and read Year of the Beasts in one sitting and found it quite moving and interesting. And you were right, knowing something about what was going on helped me with both the prose parts (and the distance you mentioned) and the graphic parts (which were just bewildering to me, initially).
[A side note here: like you, so-called “spoilers” don’t bother me. In fact, I’m one of those people who will sometimes flip through the book to find out what to expect, or even read the last few pages. ]
Now that I see how the whole thing fits together, I think the graphic novel sections were a brilliant way to show the way that Tessa felt after Lulu’s death. Seeing herself as Medusa, with the ability to turn others into stone by looking at them, was a wonderful metaphor for the way a person feels after the death of someone close to them–because no one knows how to look at her or talk to her. And the other characters as well–Celina as the legless mermaid, Charlie as a centaur, Jasper as the Minotaur–were intriguing metaphors.
I also read Personal Effects on Saturday. As you noted in your Goodreads review, it has some failings of the first novel, even though it succeeds on many levels. I agree that the whole part about Harley in Madison could have been left out entirely, with no effect on the novel. She didn’t even steal enough money to make a difference in Matt’s quest. I also felt it took a little too long for Matt to get to Madison and learn the truth about T.J., because then the ending felt a bit rushed. On the other hand, I thought that Matt’s voice was strong, and the way he dealt with things was consistent with what we knew of his family life.
Then I read another book in which a dead sibling was a critical element. In Darkness, by Nick Lake, takes place in Haiti. It is told in two voices, and in two times. The first, “Now,” is narrated by a 15-year-old boy called Shorty, who is trapped in a collapsed hospital after the 2010 earthquake. He tells the story of his family and the gang violence that brought him there as he waits in darkness for someone to dig him out. The second, “Then” sections, are told in third person, but from the POV of Toussaint L’Ouverture, a late 18th-century former slave and freedom fighter. Through these two voices, we learn quite a bit about both the history and the modern-day politics of Haiti. Shorty’s twin sister Marguerite was killed, along with their father, as a result of gang warfare. However, Shorty doesn’t know at first that Marguerite is dead; he thinks she has been taken captive by the rival gang. Much of his story has to do with feeling that he is now only half a person, and that he must find his twin to become whole again. Meanwhile, the stories of Toussaint and Shorty begin to merge, until the two characters converge in the end, with Toussaint in effect taking up that empty place inside Shorty.
It sounds a little bizarre when expressed that way, but somehow it works. The theme of being in darkness, both literally and figuratively, is repeated and resonates throughout. It actually surprised me how much I liked this book! This is a title that was not on the “contenda” list at Someday, but that came up as a “write-in” in the readership poll, so while it isn’t getting a lot of buzz, there are some folks out there who like it.