Today, I'm reviewing Kasie West's The Distance Between Us for our Tuesday Evening Reads! As usual, this is where we highlight books that people can just lose themselves in after a long day at work/school.
Paperback, 320 pages
Published July 2nd 2013 by Harper Teen
The result is a funny, smart tale of a girl meeting someone whom she believes she’ll have nothing in common with, and finding out that they’re not so different after all.
So when I heard that she was going to release a YA contemporary book being billed as a cross between Pretty in Pink and Pride and Prejudice - another favorite book of mine – I pre-ordered the book faster than you could say “Duckie!”
The Distance Between Us is a fun, summer read that showcases Kasie’s ever-growing talents as a writer, but the genuine richness that can be found in YA contemporary books, as well.
People who are rich are only good for one thing: spending money, like they do in her mother’s porcelain doll shop. Otherwise, they can’t be relied on for anything – as Caymen’s mom learned when she became pregnant with Caymen as a teenager.
However, after meeting the grandson of a well-liked client, Caymen’s beginning to question her long-held beliefs. Xander Spence is wealthy, but he’s also fun, likable and Caymen’s beginning to enjoy his company.
As Caymen struggles to reconcile long-held beliefs with newfound acquaintances, she learns more about herself than she ever believed possible.
Things that worked:
West already proved to me in Pivot Point that she has a gift for writing strong, distinctive voices and she absolutely showcases that talent again.
Caymen was hilarious, snarky and had the type of rapier wit that wouldn’t be out of place in in a Joss Whedon production. She never seemed to let anything get her downtoo much, and I loved how she approached her family’s financial situation.
Even though her solution wasn’t perfect – leaving school in the middle of the day to work? - the fact that she constantly remained so proactive about everything she did, was something I definitely appreciated.
Xander was adorable, despite the hotel heir background and all. I loved how he gave as good as he got, and how he was both completely bemused by Caymen’s forthrightness, but also comfortable enough to occasionally show his fussy side.
(I'm thinking specifically of a trip to a used clothing store...)
As for the secondary characters, I absolutely fell in love with all of them. They were quirky, well-rounded, and just sketched out in a way where you could get their whole life story from a few sentences. I could understand so much about Caymen's friends, just from their nicknames alone.
*The mom/daughter relationship
West actually develops the relationship between Caymen and her mother in a way that was very reminiscent to Lorelai and Rory’s relationship on Gilmore Girls
Even though it’s very clearly from the onset that this is Caymen’s story, the reader is never in any doubt that Caymen’s foundations, personality and action are all found in the pre-existing relationship between mother and daughter.
Without giving too many spoilers away, I loved watching this relationship develop from a place of uncertainty and instability, to the eventual understanding that the two women had about Caymen's future path in life.
* The humor
I absolutely loved the snarky sense of humor that West gave both Caymen, and her grandparents. They are humorous, blunt and refreshingly honest in a way that I feel like I don't often seen in YA books.
In many ways, the snarky, upfront sense of humor actually helps to cut through a lot of any unnecessary back-and-fourth that typically seems to occur in similar plotlines.
E.g. When Caymen and her grandparents are introduced properly for the first time, the entire situation could have dragged on endlessly. Instead, thanks to some wonderfully snarky humor, any sense of awkwardness basically evaporated within minutes.
So bravo to West for not only giving these characters unique traits, but for also cutting through a lot of unnecessary plotting!
West does an excellent job of balancing out Caymen's day-to-day activities (e.g. going out with friends; manning the doll shop) with more complex life obstacles.
Every time she revealed a new obstacle, or added a new detail, I felt like she was slowly adding to the layers that made up Caymen as a character. She managed to develop Caymen's journey in a way which felt completely organic and engaging.
There was one aspect of the plot which I felt that didn't fit, and threw off the plotting a bit. There's a misunderstood phone message at one point, which did make me question Caymen's logical deduction skills. But that's just a minor quibble.
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
Don't get me wrong: I think all of the right foundational elements are there. Caymen and Xander had a similar sense of humor; they got along well, and West made it very, very clear why they would be attracted to one another in the first place. She's added the types of details that will make the reader certain that Caymen and Xander are compatible enough to be in it for the long haul.
I just think that there weren't enough scenes actually devoted to the formation of their romance, if that makes any sense. I wanted to see the scenes of them falling in love. I wanted to read about Caymen feeling those butterflies that come along with the will-he/won't-he of a crush for the first time, and to see the two of them have the excitement and surprise of holding hands for the first time. You get the idea.
Instead, the book seemed to jump too quickly from their first meeting, to their Saturday career dates, to the slight subplot of another romantic interest and a family emergency, to the two of them being in it for the long haul. Everything felt rushed.
Of course, YMMV. And I still think that West has done an excellent job of showing why the two of them would be attracted to one another in the first place, I just wanted more follow through!
I highly recommend this book for fans of YA contemporary books, but also for fans of Sarah Dessen, Maureen Johnson.