I’m going to use the words ‘honest’ and ‘authentic’ (and synonyms) a lot in this review – because the wonderful strength of this teen novel about first love is its, uh, honesty and authenticity.
Carolina and Trevor meet on the first day of high school and within a week are passionately in love. But can they transition from the all-enveloping intensity of “falling in love” to the more stable “being in love” or will their love flame out?
What I really love about this book is that the teen characters, from dual narrators Trevor and Carolina, to their friends and acquaintances at high school, all feel honest and authentic (told you!). They are not the smarty pants teens of so many YA novels with their supersharp quips and quotations from classic novels/poems/movies. Of course, the downside of having real teens as your narrators is that they can sometimes be awkward, inarticulate, self-centered and occasionally banal.
Both Trevor and Carolina have troubled family backgrounds – her father is a philanderer, his mother tried to commit suicide. This background makes the couples’ investment in their own relationship too much and it can’t stand the weight of their needs. And their parents, though realistically flawed and untrustworthy, are also rather more wise and open with their offspring than seems credible.
The progression of their relationship is believably portrayed. Of particular note is the way the author tackles their sexual relationship – it feels refreshingly real and an antidote to slick movies and novels, and could even be considered educational for both young men and women. Their parents’ attitude and responses to it, particularly Trevor’s mother’s, are quite splendid and should be read by every teen embarking on a sexual relationship.
Though Trevor and Carolina are at the heart of the book, also convincingly done is Carolina’s shifting girl friendships as new social groups and relationships open up. Her BFF from middle school, Peggy, throws her lot in with the popular girls, leaving Carolina half-reluctant half-relieved behind.
My only very minor grumble is that I found the very last chapter a little tacked on and wasn’t quite sure what it was meant to be – I felt the book had already concluded and resolved and didn’t need anything extra.
As this is a truthful depiction of first love, warts (not literally) and all, it does means that there’s some pretty salty language and situations – so perhaps best for 14 year old and up.
Reviewed from an ARC.