Expected publication: March 29th 2016 by Simon Pulse
Format read: ARC via publisher
Her dreams of becoming a professional violinist—dashed.
Her desire to be a normal teenager—not possible.
Her relationship with her once-loving parents—bitter and strained.
Nothing about Cecilia’s life is what she would have planned for herself. So when an opportune moment presents itself, Cecilia seizes the chance to become someone else. To escape. To disappear. To have the life she always dreamed about, far away from her mother’s biting remarks and her sheltered upbringing.
Throw in the fact that I learned that "Emma Harrison" is actually a pen name for Kieran Scott/Kate Brian, whom I always know writes a good story, and I was definitely in.
Things that worked:
Despite some shaky background - more on this later - it's hard not to like Cecilia from the get-go. Harrison sets up her sheltered background well, showing how Cecilia has literally had nothing in her life but boarding school, her parents and her grandmother for most of her young adulthood. With the latter having recently died, there is now a dearth in her life, so it makes sense when she impulsively decides to make a break for it.
Cecilia's attempts to settle into a new town are believable, and Harrison is especially adept at showing how even in her new environment, life isn't as perfect as she might believe. There's Cecilia's conditioned phobias and lack of social awareness, small-town drama and the ever-looming threat of her parents finding her.
But through each obstacle, whether it's finding a job, moving in with a roommate or even falling in love Cecilia grows up a little more, and we see hints of the person that she could have been, but is not too late to still become. This also sets Cecilia up nicely to begin to confront the demons of her past, and works especially well with the ending of this book.
Harrison has always been good at the pacing in her books written as Kieran Scott and Kate Brian, and Escaping Perfect is no different. She gives up some cursory background for Cecilia, before throwing us into a completely new environment.
Consequently, we're able to grow up with Cecilia, and see just how much she changes in her time away from her family. It helps readers feel progressively more invested in Cecilia's journey to find herself, and sets them up for genuinely feeling invested in her life and what come next.
The relationship factor
Despite Cecilia beginning the book feeling relatively isolated from the world, Escaping Perfect is actually all about relationships. It's about Cecilia's extremely unhealthy relationship with her family; her burgeoning friendships after she runs away from home, and her growing, evolving relationship with herself.
Harrison shows how one girl can be completely changed simply by having these relationships, and it's a compelling journey to watch.
The romance factor
What's great about Cecilia's romance with the infamous Jasper, is that Harrison is still able to surprise us with what is obviously an inevitable, obstacle-ridden relationship.
Their challenges to get together and stay together are drama-filled, but also very true to the feelings of high drama that one experiences when one is a teenager. Harrison also manages to segue from their normal, small-town relationship into the absolute confusion and drama of Cecilia's background very well, and I can't wait to see what happens next.
The deeper issues
While Escaping Perfect is very much a case of wish fulfillment, Harrison does make it a point of stressing some subtle but important issues like learning how to stand up for yourself.
As Cecilia adapts to her new life, she learns that it's okay to fight for what she wants and her future. She's not subject to the whims of her family. The fact that she's able to gradually practice that ability to stand up for herself through different scenarios will likely inspire readers, and also set them up to see what happens.
What. Was. That. I've always known that Harrison is good at writing cliffhangers, but this one completely upped the ante. I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS.
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
My one issue with Escaping Perfect, is with Cecilia's background. While I can understand wanting to protect Cecilia after the kidnapping attempt, isolating her to the point where she's never been inside a movie theater or can't walk down a street without a panic attack, feels a little ridiculous.
If the Montgomerys were really that prominent in societal and political circles, they would have arguably wanted to groom Cecilia to have not just a presence, but the correct presence in society. Moreover, they wouldn't have wanted to risk all the media stories that would have likely come with hiding her away either. I'm actually a little surprised that Cecilia is able to eventually function as well as she does, especially without having the foundation/EQ of interacting with others at a normal level.
Though I can understand why the synopsis name-drops Gone Girl - the character takes off and lets the other characters in her life believe that it's by force - it's a bit misleading.
I've seen more than one review criticize the fact that the book doesn't have the mystery or drama of Gone Girl, and how that misrepresentation has colored the rest of their appreciation for the story. Definitely something to keep in mind while reading.
Cecelia is by no means a perfect character, but she's a realistic one. I think any young readers can appreciate her desire to spread her wins and live her life, without the expectations of family and name influencing her. Readers will most definitely cheer her growth and attempts to establish her own life, while absolutely loving the cliffhanger ending.
Strongly recommend for readers who enjoy dramatic contemporary fiction, a la The OC.
About the author:
Emma Harrison has written several YA romances including The Best Girl, Tourist Trap, and Snow Queens, as well as many TV and movie adaptations. When Emma is not writing, she loves to bake, work out, read, and watch way too much TV. She lives in New Jersey with her incredibly awesome husband and two perfectly adorable sons.