My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Initial reaction: I’m on the fence about “Through to You” because I think the novel became so much better towards the end, but the beginning and middle were muddled to heck and back. I was incredibly frustrated with it in parts. I read the audiobook version provided by my library, and Jesse Bernstein is an apt narrator for it, though I think I was more frustrated with Cam’s viewpoint voice in general. I understood his grief and heck, even understood the emotions and desperation that came with it, but there were parts of this where I just couldn’t necessarily get behind it, so to speak. Hopefully I can explain more in my full review.
Emily Hainsworth’s “Through to You” frustrated the ever-loving crumb out of me. Sometimes in meaningful ways, sometimes not. I have to give it credit though, it was one that held my attention once it hit a certain point and when a certain twist comes into play – my reaction was “Oh crud. Well played, I did not see that coming.” It was also well written for the style of the narrative it took on.
But even considering the nature of the twist in this, I still had mixed sentiments concerning it, probably on a far more complex level than some of the overarching things this book had to say about grief, letting go, and even that you can’t cheat death regardless of how good things might seem on the surface.
I’m getting somewhat ahead of myself on this, so let’s talk about Camden (Cam), the novel’s protagonist. From initial meeting, I didn’t like him very much. One could say that when we meet him, Camden’s going through quite a tough spell. His girlfriend died in an accident, he has an injury that turned out to be a dream killer for him – and he’s dealing with the aftermath of all this alongside an antagonism with with a classmate he’s never liked and his divorced parents. Quite a bit on one’s plate to consider, sure, and more than enough reason why Cam might be on the bitter side of things and lashing out at the people who care for him.
But somehow, the way his voice comes across makes it hard for anyone to align themselves with his respective situations and grief. He comes across as a massive jerk in the scheme of things. A good portion in the story (close to half the book’s length), while Cam’s looking over the site where his girlfriend died, he discovers a mysterious portal and a young woman named Nina who announces herself to him – seemingly knowing him, but not. It’s only then that Cam realizes there’s another parallel world – where his girlfriend is alive and things aren’t what they seem.
I’ll admit that I had a hard time getting into the beginning of this novel and set it down several times despite a solid narration by Jesse Bernstein in the audiobook version. I felt the narrative took too long to get to the focal point of the story, despite wanting to establish the character relationships and Cam’s points of grief. Part of this might be that Camden’s exploration of grief comes across on the side of exposition, rather than felt with the punch gut emotional resonance that comes with losing someone or losing an opportunity. It feels less raw, more on the side of meandering (and I hate saying that because Hainsworth did a good job with showing some parts of this grief, but the overarching portrait didn’t come across that way).
When the story started transitioning to Camden facing the realities of this “other dimension” – it opened up the story to many intriguing possibilities. One: his girlfriend (Viv) is still alive in this dimension. Considering he’s had a hard time letting the one go in his own dimension, he sees it as a chance to start again, “get her back” so to speak. I think that was an interesting, and even plausible turn in the exploration of things. Yet, the reality is much more complex than it seems. Viv is an entirely different person with different perceptions of reality in comparison to the world that Cam knows, but Cam’s willing to overlook certain parts of it, sometimes to the point of denial.
Yet, Nina, the girl that introduced him to this other dimension and warns him not to come back at all, knows a lot more than she’s letting on. It’s a slow burn getting to the point of what she knows that will throw Cam’s perception of this reality into a tailspin.
I had a few mixed feelings about this turn in the story, because it kind of villainizes both girls in a sense – puts them up against each other even when Cam never really had anything but a surface relationship with Nina in the first place. I felt there was an awkward love triangle established here where it really didn’t need to be and ventures into cliched territory. Still, at the very least, Hainsworth uses Cam’s narrative to point out that Cam, Nina, and Viv are awkwardly navigating this weird scenario at first. Part of me was glad that Hainsworth approached a touchy situation, but the other part of me cringed thinking of how overused the “me versus she” troupe has been in YA works. Yet, I was drawn into Nina’s character learning about her family life and her relationship with her little brother. I was also curious as to why Viv was so willing to go into Cam’s world and didn’t have any qualms about what she would leave behind – alongside the darker streak her character seemed to take on after a time.
After a certain point, I got it. Maybe even a little before the twist came about. I didn’t know how to feel about that because on one hand – it was a darned good twist to things and showed that you can’t cheat death without some kind of repercussions – that things aren’t what they seem. As well, it’s not an easily forgiven point despite the alternate reality. Cam showed the right action with walking away from that, and it was right for him to feel sickened by it. On the other hand, I don’t know how I felt about the story completely shifting the morality meter to one side given that it took such a long time for that reveal to come, and given that Nina had many chances to tell Cam the truth of things. He might’ve reacted the same way he did in the latter part of the novel, claiming the “jealousy” route, but it could’ve came a lot sooner than what it did. At the same time – that’s a pretty heavy revelation to consider in and of itself. I think it could’ve been vetted out just a tad more, and maybe it might’ve come across with just a bit more balance for all the characters involved.
I did appreciate the ending, however, and I think that was quite a nice note to end it on, coming full circle to what it means to come to terms and start over, even with all that happened.
Overall, I think Hainsworth’s first novel was an interesting one in some considerations. It left me with mixed sentiments and ways that I think could’ve been better in its overarching presentation, but I’m certainly willing to see what other stories she has on her plate from here on out.
Overall score: 2.5/5