Welcome to another installment of Mini-Reviews! Summer's upon us and I'm here to tell you about two YA books that feature road trips -- one comic and one tragic:
Kissing in America
by Margo Rabb
Published by Harper Teen
on May 26, 2015
Source: eARC from publisher
Synopsis from Goodreads: In the two years since her father died, sixteen-year-old Eva has found comfort in reading romance novels—118 of them, to be exact—to dull the pain of her loss that’s still so present. Her romantic fantasies become a reality when she meets Will, who seems to truly understand Eva’s grief. Unfortunately, after Eva falls head-over-heels for him, he picks up and moves to California without any warning. Not wanting to lose the only person who has been able to pull her out of sadness—and, perhaps, her shot at real love—Eva and her best friend, Annie, concoct a plan to travel to the west coast to see Will again. As they road trip across America, Eva and Annie confront the complex truth about love.
My take: I loved the opening chapters of Kissing in America, which read like a quiet contemporary romance. Eva, a reserved high school student with hidden depths, falls for the charismatic Will. I really related to Eva -- to the awkwardness of her adolescent longings and her sadness over her father's sudden death two years prior. I loved this part of the story even though, as an adult reader, I could see that the sensitive but model-dating Will was never going to appreciate an understated girl like Eva. Of course, Eva doesn't see this at all, and when Will abruptly moves to California, she hatches a plan: she'll get her brainy best friend Annie to become a contestant on The Smartest Girl in America. The show is filmed in California, and Eva sees this as a way to get back to Will.
This was where the story began to go off the rails for me. I didn't actually mind the crazy outlandishness of Eva's scheme, but I didn't love the way it changed the tone of the book completely. The girls' road trip felt to me like a weird, madcap journey meant to teach Eva some Important Life Lessons. I was looking forward to the scenes with the quiz show (I'm nerdy like that) but then Eva did something really awful that I had a hard time getting past and all the quiz show stuff went right out the window. (You can read the spoilers on my Goodreads review.) I was so disappointed in Eva.
Kissing In America featured beautiful writing and some really poignant moments that had to do with Eva's longing for Will and her attempts to deal with her father's death. But I wish the book had just stuck to that. To me, the addition of the comedic parts -- the quiz show, Eva's obsession with bodice ripper novels and the weird characters the girls met on their road trip -- felt jarring and discordant. But other readers may feel completely differently. If you love quirky road trips, you might want to try this out.
by Trish Doller
To be published by Bloomsbury
on June 2, 2015
Source: ARC for review
Synopsis from Goodreads: Eighteen-year-old Arcadia wants adventure. Living in a tiny Florida town with her dad and four-year-old brother, Cadie spends most of her time working, going to school, and taking care of her family. So when she meets two handsome cousins at a campfire party, she finally has a chance for fun. They invite her and friend to join them on a road trip, and it's just the risk she's been craving-the opportunity to escape. But what starts out as a fun, sexy journey quickly becomes dangerous when she discovers that one of them is not at all who he claims to be. One of them has deadly intentions.
My take: I'm a big Trish Doller fan -- I love the way she writes about tough, imperfect girls who find romance. So I'm sorry to say that The Devil You Know hit some wrong notes for me. I loved the Everglades atmosphere the book sets up and I felt a lot of compassion for Cadie, who lost her mother and had to take on a lot of adult responsibilities.
I'm a veteran thriller reader and I felt that all the twists in this book were pretty easy to spot. As in another YA book with a similar premise (Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick) I struggled with the juxtaposition of a swoony romantic vibe with some very disturbing violence, but maybe that's just my issue. I also struggled with Cadie's decisions, all of which were explained by the fact that she needed to cut loose from her responsibilities at home. But for me, the biggest stumbling point in this book was the romance. My thoughts on that are spoilery, so if you want to read them, they are under protection on my Goodreads review. Overall, I'll say that I think I would have liked The Devil You Know much better as a female empowerment story than a romance.
Have you read either of these? Let me know what you think in comments!