For our Tuesday Evening Reads, we're going with Miranda Kenneally's Things I Can't Forget. This is the third book in Kenneally's ongoing Hundred Oaks series.
Our Tuesday and Thursday Evening Reads segments are specifically designed for books that we think readers can dive into, and lose themselves in, after a long day at work or school.
Paperback, 320 pages
Published March 1st 2013 by Sourcebooks Fire
Format read: E-book (owned)
Readers will be challenged to look beyond their own stereotypes and preconceptions, while getting to the genuine heart behind this tale.
I have fairly strong views about religion - which don't necessarily fall in line with those of Kate, the protagonist - and I wasn't sure I wanted to read a book with a protagonist criticizing people who believe in my beliefs.
Well, I'm glad I took a chance on the book anyway, because this book is nothing like what I expected.
Kate feels like she betrayed her religious beliefs and her friendship with Emily, by driving Emily to the abortion. Now, as she starts a summer at a Christian camp she attended when she was little, Kate is hoping that the experience will put her on the right path toward God again.
However, Kate soon meets Matt at camp, who is wild, funny and perfect. And soon, every doubt that she had about Emily's relationship, is now plaguing her.
As Kate tries to figure out what's right and what's wrong, in a world that is suddenly now only shades of gray, she starts on an journey which she never expected.
Things that worked:
I'll be blunt: Kate isn't likable for a significant portion of the book. She's judgmental, nosy, gun-shy and uncertain. She's also completely neurotic, and is so busy judging others, she's never really lived her own life.
And this is why I liked her. Kate's far from perfect as a character. If I knew her in real life, I'd probably be annoyed with her a significant portion of the time. But she's so real. Even if I haven't necessarily had the same religious beliefs as her, I have definitely been in the same place as her when it comes to friends, boys and looks.
Kenneally does a brilliant job of showing how teenage girls can be in a position where it seems like everything and everyone they know no longer make sense, and how to work through it - e.g. the burgeoning friendship that Kate develops with Parker.
* The romance
Kenneally has always had a gift for writing realistic, lovely romances that are as far from insta-love as you can get. She's proven her talent again, with the relationship between Kate and Matt.
Kate and Matt take it (relatively) slow, taking the opportunity to get to know each other. They learn each other's quirks and weaknesses. They see each other in low moments and high moments. They get mad, they swear, but they're also supportive. Kenneally perfectly captures what it is to fall madly, deliriously in love for the first time - including Kate's own hesitations about how far she's willing to go with Matt.
Special notice: At one point, Matt explains how Kate saved his life, the first time they met. The moment is short, lovely and poignant.
* The relationship between Emily and Kate
While I was slightly annoyed with Kate's incessant requests for Emily to pray with her after the abortion, I still appreciated the raw, rich relationship beween the two girls.
I especially loved the smaller details of their friendship that Kenneally made sure to include. E.g. the fact that Kate bought all of Emily's favorite junk food from Walgreens before the procedure; the fact that she held Emily's hand non-stop; shows that has and always will be a genuine love between the girls. It's just an unfortunate twist of fate that has torn them apart.
*The frank discussion of abortion.
Without getting too real-world/political about it, I thought that Kenneally presented a very compelling case for why Emily made the decision that she did. There was no sense of guilt or shame when Emily recanted her actions.
At the same time, Kenneally perfectly balanced Emily's beliefs with questions and thoughts from Kate challenging the decision, which also didn't have any sense of guilt or accusation. Kenneally juxtaposed Kate's issues with Emily's decision in a way which were thoughtful, well-balanced and smart.
* The parents
I loved the fact that Kate's parents were an active presence in her life. The fact that they clearly knew her well - e.g. made it clear that she didn't have a curfew because they trusted her - was a rich and interesting change from parents in other stories.
Most importantly, I loved the fact that Kate's dad admits that his religious beliefs were slightly different from Kate's, and he didn't mind.
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
I thought that Kate's back and forth on whether to pursue her relationship with Matt was realistic, but went on slightly too long. It seemed like every single time they took a step forward, she'd drown herself in guilt.
At some point, I started wondering why Matt would want to be with someone so obviously clueless. Keannelly gives a lovely explanation for why Matt feels that type of loyalty to Kate, but I'm still not entirely sure I bought it at the end.
* The lack of a discussion about safe sex.
I could be remembering incorrectly, but I'm fairly certain that there's never an explicit discussion about safe sex - e.g. birth control; the use of condoms, etc.
Considering Emily's abortion; the fact that several characters are engaging in sexual relationships and Kate's own doubts re: sleeping with Matt, I would have loved for Kenneally to have taken this opportunity to provide more background information on safe sex - especially for her teenaged readers. I felt like this was a missed opportunity.
I would recommend this book for educators and parents who are looking for books that may help the teenagers in their own lives get over personal obstacles and hurdles. The questions and ideas provoked by this book should create some fruitful discussion.
However, I would also remind educators/parents to only make this book available to older teens - the explicit sexual content will likely be too much for younger readers.
For more information on Miranda, why not check out her website or her twitter?