Due to the fairly disappointed reviews I’ve been seeing for this book, I went in with pretty low expectations. Which probably made me like it better than I would’ve otherwise, because by the end I was thinking that it was actually decent. I mean, it’s not my favorite Sarah Dessen book or anything, but neither is it my least favorite. I think if this book were by some author I wasn't familiar with, I would have been fairly impressed, but since I've seen Dessen do better, I wasn't as wowed as I might have been otherwise.
Enter Theo, a super-ambitious outsider, a New Yorker assisting on a documentary film about a reclusive local artist. Theo's sophisticated, exciting, and, best of all, he thinks Emaline is much too smart for Colby.
Emaline's mostly-absentee father, too, thinks Emaline should have a bigger life, and he's convinced that an Ivy League education is the only route to realizing her potential. Emaline is attracted to the bright future that Theo and her father promise. But she also clings to the deep roots of her loving mother, stepfather, and sisters. Can she ignore the pull of the happily familiar world of Colby?
Emaline wants the moon and more, but how can she balance where she comes from with where she's going?
Basically from the moment I started reading this book, I fell right back in with Dessen’s writing style. That aspect of her books always just does it for me, you know? No matter what I think of the story, her writing always makes me feel at home.
Character-wise, this book was a bit of a mixed bag for me. Emaline, the main character, didn’t especially stand out, but it’s not like she annoyed me either. Theo, I didn’t like all that much, but since I don’t think you’re supposed to like him, I was fine with my dislike. Luke, I did like. Obviously, what he does to Emaline towards the beginning is totally jerky and wrong, but that aside, he seemed to be a good guy generally. I also really liked Emaline’s family. Dessen always shines in her portrayal of family relationships, and this book was no exception—from her mom to her stepdad to her sisters and half-brother, I was pretty happy whenever any of them were in a scene.
I think what made this book not stand out as much for me as most of Dessen’s other books—aside from the lack of a happy fall-in-love storyline—was that it didn’t feel as focused. I feel like in Dessen’s other books, by the end, the main character has learned or overcome something specific. But that wasn’t really the case here—yes, a lot of things happen in Emaline’s life over the course of the summer, but I don’t feel like she herself really changed at all. There wasn’t really a clear, driving issue to keep the plot centered.
Overall, if you haven’t read any Sarah Dessen books yet, I wouldn’t recommend making this your first. And if you are already a Dessen fan, expect a decent book but not one of Dessen’s best.
Rating: 3.5 / 5