Although Frannie's parents divorced when she was quite young, they still live close together. Only eight blocks away. Frannie lives with her mother and stepfather, but shares a close connection with her father. They're both artists, and they understand each other.
Then Frannie's father dies suddenly just before her fifteenth birthday, and the world she lives in, the world full of beautiful things her father saw and shared with her, seems suddenly dangerous.
While cleaning out his house, she finds a gorgeous wooden box with her name on it. It contains a hand-carved, hand-painted jigsaw puzzle. And so, in secret, she begins to put the pieces together.
Frannie in Pieces is sensitively written, in simple and effective prose. It feels emotionally true, and the author never tries to explain Frannie's actions to the reader. Frannie does what she does and Delia Ephron lets the reader figure it out. Which is nice, and suggests some amount of confidence in the audience. The inclusion of Frannie's drawings makes sense and makes Frannie that much more real. The magical realism aspect of the story is also well done and never even threatens to overshadow the real focus of the book: Frannie's mourning and her re-entry into life.
Frannie's mother's grief is also especially well-done. It's understated -- her relationship with Frannie's father was (obviously) very different, and she's trying to help Frannie through her own grief -- but it's there, and I felt it even before Frannie was able to. Oh, and Frannie's relationship with her stepfather is complex enough that it could be the focus of its own book, but like her mother's grief, it's an undercurrent. And that adds depth to the story.
There's something really comfortable and mellow about the book in general -- some may not enjoy it because, really, even with the magic (if it is magic) and the mini-romance* and the camp sub-plot, it's a quiet, meditative book** -- and it mostly worked for me.
The part that didn't work for me was this: I couldn't believe Frannie was fifteen. I kept thinking of her as about twelve, but then her age would come up or something would remind me and I'd get all distracted. So finally I just gave up on trying to make that work and just thought of her as twelve, text be damned. And after that I was fine.
*Frannie's didn't work for me so well, but her friend Jenna's did -- I liked that her guy said something along the "small, good thing" line from that Raymond Carver story. And I liked that Frannie didn't think he came up with it himself -- she thought he was quoting someone and not attributing his source. HA! Actually, that bit is online right here.
**Which, really, makes the jigsaw-puzzle-as-plot-device a perfect choice.