Hardcover, 400 pages
Published February 3rd 2015 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Format read: ARC via publisher
Heather Demetrios deftly explores the relatioship that develops between Skylar and Josh, as Skylar seeks a better life and Josh continues to recover from his wartime experiences, proving once again, she remains one of the leading voices in YA fiction.
Nineteen-year-old Josh Mitchell had a different ticket out of Creek View: the Marines. But after his leg is blown off in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be. What brings Skylar and Josh together is working at the Paradise—a quirky motel off California’s dusty Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and soon, something deeper.
Demetrios introduces us to Skylar and Josh, two very different individuals from the same small town. Skylar's an artist and a dreamer, who's had a determined pact with best friend Chris, swearing to get out and move onto bigger things in life. Josh did get out and into the Marines, only to lose a leg in Afghanistan. He's now returned to life in Creek View, with tramatic wartime memories, and the understanding that life will now be very different. But once he reunites with Skylar at the Paradise, both of them begin to find hope in each other...
Demetrios has proven since Something Real, that she has an unsurpassed ability to dig down into the struggles of everyday life, and beautifully dissect and analyse those layers of emotions for readers. We see the anxiety, hurt and restlessness that Skylar and Josh jointly feel at the start of the novel, and how the hole in their hearts slowly begin to heal after they find each other.
However, romance and burgeoning adulthood are difficult journeys, which sometimes simply don't go hand-in-hand. Even as Skylar and Josh find common ground with each other, they also realize that they're also at very different points in their lives. Skylar's a girl on a mission to leave, while Josh has returned without knowing just what his new end goal may be.
Demetrios brilliantly shows how that conflict ends up encouraging both to explore new and tried behavior, including Josh and Skylar pushing each other away, just as they need each other the most. There's a certain degree of teenaged stubborness and refusal to see just what's good for them in their respective actions, which I think that many teens and older readers will wryly recognize.
Outside of the core romance, Demetrios spins a starkly beautiful backdrop of friends and family for Skylar and Josh alike. While I loved Chris, Dylan and Marge, it was Skylar's mom who ultimately won a place in my heart. As misguided as her actions were, and as much as she hurt Skylar, I couldn't help but empathize with the woman who had lost so much in her life. Demetrios beautifully juxtaposes Skylar's life with her life, and you can't help but feel happy both with her ultimate outcome, and Skylar's acceptace of such. It's such a turning point and milestone of adulthood, and speaks to the end journey that both have experienced.
Of special note: Outside of Skylar and Josh's central storylines parents and educators will likely also appreciate Demetrios's no-nonsense attitude to issues like teenaged pregnancy and premarital sex. The are instances of both in the book, and Demetrios smartly acknowledges the youthful horomones that drive both instances, while also acknowledging the honest and often difficult realities involved with both.
(I know, Heather. But you really are.)
She spins and weaves nuisanced, heartbreaking individual stories for Skylar and Josh, making sure to build them up until their paths cross and their love story begins. It's a layered, well-thoughtout relationship that's smart, beautiful, and best of all: completely honest. Heather never idealizes Skylar and Josh's individual challenges, or their challenges with each other, which is what makes them believable and relatable.
On a greater level, I think that Heather does a thought-provking highlighting the lives of the men and women who are continuing to risk their lives in the service of our country. She provides an honest, painfully raw (albeit fictional!) look at what they are most likely experiencing, as they return to civilian life.
I know individuals who are currently serving, and individuals who have experienced injuries very similar to Josh's. I am very grateful that Heather opens up the discussion of how someone like Josh recovers and moves on from his wartime experiences, and how others like Skylar can relate. It's timely, and something that I think younger readers - especially readers of military families - can appreciate.
Highly recommend for all readers.
Special pre-Valentine's Day Promo for the romantics!
And what's even better, is that if you order the book from now until Valentine's Day (Saturday), you can receive a hand-written letter from Josh. Check out the details on Heather's blog!
About the author:
Heather Demetrios is the author of the critically acclaimed YA novel Something Real, for which she received the Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award. She has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is the founder of Live Your What, an organization that creates writing opportunities for teens of limited economic means.