Initial reaction: I feel like I’m of two minds with this book. One part of me really liked some of the emotional roughness and exploration of difficult situations this story offered, both for Maggie and Caleb’s experiences. At the same time, I feel like this book had a cumbersome way of showing these details, so much at times that my suspension of disbelief couldn’t overlook points of dramatic convenience for the sequence of events. I know this story has a follow up but did it have to end with so many parts in the air and too quickly resolved?
I know this review is going to sound like a (albeit, brief) rant, but for all intents, I actually did like a significant part of this book and I found myself eagerly continuing it without wanting to put it down. I just didn’t think that Elkeles’s writing was that strong or consistent through the work, the latter part of the novel really showcasing how rushed and underdeveloped all of the respective matters in this book actually were. The progression felt awesome and the characters emotionally connected in moments, but then it felt rushed to heck and back and underdeveloped in others.
Caleb and Maggie both felt like realistic characters with strong central conflicts to me – which was one of the reasons I was initially drawn to this story. Caleb’s just out of prison for hitting Maggie in a drunken hit and run accident, while Maggie’s recovering from her injuries and feeling her world crash down around her as her initial plans to flee their hometown of Paradise end up falling through. It’s when Maggie and Caleb end up interacting again (reluctantly) that both of them start changing in individual ways that are key to recuperating from the stigma and self-doubts that surround them. I feel like the story had moments where it really had points to make about it, but it didn’t feel as deep as I’d hoped it would be, though it did feel genuine on the part of the characters and their interactions with each other. I liked watching their moments of growth where it was possible to really see them come to terms with everything that was going on and the clashes that were unique to their homes, school interactions, and personal challenges. Heck, I even found myself believing their relationship, though I would say that the conflicts surrounding that made me lose my suspension of disbelief more than a few times.
Yet I had a major bone to pick as the story started marching towards its ending – it was throwing all of these kinds of curveballs for reveals, and I felt like they were just shoehorned into the book just before ending on a note that promised a continuation or potential resolution in a forthcoming book. Like – I honestly feel with all of the situations it did end up revealing, it deserved a path towards the resolution that didn’t feel like a steep drop off in some respects. That was what somewhat ruined the experience of the book for me. I still want to see what happens in the follow-up book, but it doesn’t make me want to jump right into the next story for anticipation because I feel like this ended so haphazard.
I thought it was worth the time – both for the strong audiobook performance and for watching the relationships between the characters develop and evoke their struggles over time. Yet, I also think it could’ve been a stronger experience.
Overall score: 2.5/5 stars.