Pub Date: Available now!
ARC received from MTV Books in exchange for an honest review
Dannie says: LOTS to love here!
Are there any answers when someone you love makes a tragic choice?
Before and After. That's how Rowan Areno sees her life now. Before: she was a normal sixteen-year-old--a little too sheltered by her police officer father and her mother. After: everything she once believed has been destroyed in the wake of a shattering tragedy, and every day is there to be survived.
If she had known, on that Friday in March when she cut school, that a random stranger's shocking crime would have traumatic consequences, she never would have left campus. If the crime video never went viral, maybe she could have saved her mother, grandmother--and herself--from the endless replay of heartache and grief.
Finding a soul mate in Eli, a witness to the crime who is haunted by losses of his own, Rowan begins to see there is no simple, straightforward path to healing wounded hearts. Can she learn to trust, hope, and believe in happiness again?
WHAT I LIKED
The MC. She came off as bratty at first and I kind of didn't care what happened to her as a result, making her a like instead of a love. This changed as the book progressed, however, but at first I really was more invested in her father than the MC herself, which for a typical YA reader might be a huge problem (since they tend not to attach to the adults in stories as much as other teens.) That said, her brattyness lended itself to nice room for character growth.
Really engaging read once you get past the initial pace issues. (More on this below) but the story architecture was a little off balance, making the middle of the book feel very, very slow. Once the story picked up, though, it was unputdownable.
WHAT I LOVED
The grittiness. This is my sort of read. There are very realistic emotions throughout and nice authenticity. As a result, however, the beginning is very intense, maybe too realistic for some readers, and probably not suitable for kids under fifteen or sixteen (info for my parent readers). This is a tough read, and it may be triggering for some readers who have depression or care about someone with serious depression or suicidal ideation. It would be a great book for a parent and teen to read and discuss together.
I love that this is a YA story that focuses on family. So much of YA/C falls into the full blown romance category. And while there is a huge romantic component to this story (more on that below) the story holds water without the romance. I think this is a story that needed a voice in YA.
Love the romance. It's exactly the right balance of sensitivity to the main story arc while not overstepping its boundary as a subplot. It's also a nice example of writing authentic and realistic teen romance where the characters fulfill a need for each other that's actually meaningful (a big pet peeve of mine in pink teen lit.)
WHAT I WANTED MORE OF
Story architecture feels a little wonky. The main character's journey doesn't really get rolling until the unexpected (sorta) twist with Dad, which feels too late in the plot arc for me. First third of book happens around MC more than to her in a way that made the pace there feel on the slow side. As I read, I found myself wondering whether teen readers would be engaged by the first third of the book.
As a school counselor, I wanted more realistic/respectful portrayal of how school personnel respond to situations like this. The scene with bus driver, for example, is completely unrealistic. Bus drivers don't antagonize students or go looking for a fight because there are dash cameras right there to catch the whole thing. Also because if a school bus driver is looking for a fight there's usually one to be had with an intentionally antagonistic kid who is also looking for a fight. This might be remotely plausible in a middle school setting, but high school bus drivers tend to leave their students along and as a consequence the students do the same and everyone's happy as a result. So this scene totally pulled me out of the story.
It's highly unlikely the press would show the video on the local news. Too glamorizing of suicide and they would have a serious lawsuit on their hands if a copycat trend started. Would it be available online? Sure. But not on regular TV news or even really on cable TV news. So here again I was pulled out of the story because this sort of thing just doesn't happen in real life.
I felt like there was too much normalizing of risk behaviors for YA in my opinion. The drinking and drug content is presented with the casual nonchalance you might expect in a new adult book. Regardless of the authenticity, when we write for teens I feel like we have an ethical obligation to do our best not to glamorize risk behaviors--unprotected sex, casual drug use, etc. Why? Because kids interpret this as condoning the behavior. And as a therapist who's seen too many kids die or ruin other people's lives with their drug use, that's not okay with me, as a writer or a reader, not to mention as a parent. This book was not nearly as normalizing as many others I've read, but it did stick out for me so I wanted to note it for my parent readers.
All that said, I did really, REALLY enjoy this read. It has some kinks that might benefit from further finessing, but on the whole it was definitely a book I was glad I happened across on NetGalley. Read it and let me know what you think!