When I talked about this book in a few days ago, My TBR List, I said:
Do I think it will be a masterful display of literary skill and plot development? Probably not, but I’m willing to be surprised.
I loved it. So. Much.
I thought I was picking up a quick, unsubstantial ChickLit. What I got was an intense portrayal of real teenage life.
If given the opportunity, what sixteen-year-old wouldn’t jump at the chance to move in with a friend and live parent-free? Although maybe “opportunity” isn’t the right word, since April had to tell her dad a tiny little untruth to make it happen (see #1: “Lied to Our Parents”). But she and her housemate Vi are totally responsible and able to take care of themselves. How they ended up “Skipping School” (#3), “Buying a Hot Tub” (#4), and, um, “Harboring a Fugitive” (#7) is a mystery to them. To get through the year, April will have to juggle a love triangle, learn to do her own laundry, and accept that her carefully constructed world just might be falling apart . . . one thing-she-shouldn’t-have-done at a time.
This book is both really fun and really sad. Not in a John-Green-cancer-book way. It’s sad in a painfully real, when-everything-in-life-just-slowly-goes-wrong way. The plot has all the crazy moments and awkward situations of classic contemporary YA romance books, but they feel way more real than anything I’ve ever read before.
This book was relatable as hell. Maybe you have to be me in my life right now to get this depth of meaning out of this book–but I doubt it. A lot of the main character’s struggles don’t apply to me (see: basically everything with her boyfriend), but they still affected me deeply. Sarah Mlynowski handled the conflicts of emotions of having divorced parents deftly. She captured the spirit of a teenager given a carte blanche for a semester and no parental supervision without making her main character entirely corrupt or lose herself. And when April actually ends up finding herself (not a spoiler, it’s kinda obvious that it has to happen at some point, right?) it isn’t in the cheesy, I-woke-up-and-I-can-see-clearly-now way most books like this are. It works, and it feels natural. The way April was forced to deal with friendships in this book really affected me–I recognized my own feelings in her struggles.
That was the amazing thing about this book: I recognized the emotions it was making me feel as emotions my own life has made me feel. Most books make you feel, but you fall into the story. Even when I fell into this story, I was still anchored to my own life by how familiar her situations were.
I didn’t find the plot predictable at all, something ChickLit/contemporary romance books usually seem to suffer from. As I’ve said before, the book has the wild, crazy scenes you would expect, but they are done with a subtlety and originality that surprised me. (I saw one reveal coming, but only partly, because I assumed some characters knew things they didn’t.) The romance broke some of the tropes I’ve seen in other books like this, which I appreciated; watching the romance develop was actually one of the saddest parts of the story.
The prologue of the book actually takes place chronologically at the end of the story, right as all the pieces of her life that spend the book tipping crash to the ground and shatter. Then chapter one pops back a few months to the beginning of the living arrangement. This means that you spend the whole book with a feeling of impending doom, because you know what is waiting at the end–but not the very end. You don’t know how (if) everything fixes itself–and I’m not telling. This added a level of intensity that I was not expecting. I read this book in one day, basically one sitting, because I had to find out what was going to happen.
I loved the way Sarah Mlynowski wrote this book. It’s told with intermittent flashbacks and explanations of conflicts, but they are done really well. They fit into the story, never breaking the flow of the plot, which flashbacks often do. I can’t really explain the structure of this book–just read it. It is unique and effective at delivering this story, while helping to avoid the cliche drama of ChickLit.
I can’t really think of anything I didn’t like about this book. I’m sure there were little parts that bugged me, but the overall impact of the book was positive enough to make me forget them.
I would especially recommend this book to teenagers, but also to anyone who wants to read a real, tough story about life not being entirely perfect, even when it should be.