Review: The Lonesome Young by Lucy Connors

The Lonesome Young Book Cover The Lonesome Young
Lucy Connors

Get swept away in the first book of the sensational romantic drama that is Romeo & Juliet meets Justified.

WHAT HAPPENS when the teenage heirs of two bitterly FEUDING FAMILIES can’t stay away from each other?

The Rhodales and the Whitfields have been sworn enemies for close on a hundred years, with a whole slew of adulterous affairs, financial backstabbing, and blackmailing that’s escalated the rivalry to its current state of tense ceasefire.

IT’S TIME TO LIGHT THE FUSE . . .

And now a meth lab explosion in rural Whitfield County is set to reignite the feud more viciously than ever before. Especially when the toxic fire that results throws together two unlikely spectators—proper good girl Victoria Whitfield, exiled from boarding school after her father’s real estate business melts down in disgrace, and town motorcycle rebel Mickey Rhodale, too late as always to thwart his older brothers’ dangerous drug deals.

Victoria and Mickey are about to find out the most passionate romances are the forbidden ones.

. . . ON A POWDER KEG FULL OF PENT-UP DESIRE, risk-taking daredevilry, and the desperate actions that erupt when a generation of teens inherits nothing but hate.

Review:

I find myself growing increasingly frustrated with instalove and other clichés in YA romance. It never used to be more than a mild annoyance to me, but lately I seem to be reaching the edge of my tolerance. There are only so many times I can read about someone feeling an immediate, unexplainable connection with some impossibly sexy stranger before I lose my cool.

Unfortunately for The Lonesome Young, it was the book that finally sent me over the edge. It’s got a lot of redeeming qualities, but I’ve been so inundated with YA tropes that I’ve reached my saturation point and couldn’t get past The Lonesome Young’s flaws.

Basic summary of this book? There are two families, the Rhodales and Whitfields, who’ve been at war for ages. They’ve got all kinds of beef with one another – romantically, financially, and otherwise. The feud, which has been at a tentative stand-off for a few years, is suddenly reignited when a new generation of Whitfields moves to town and shakes things up.

In this story there is Victoria Whitfield, the poor little rich girl who nobody understands. Then there’s Mickey Rhodale, the swaggering boy with a bad rep and secret heart of gold. Naturally, Mickey is dark and ripped and gorgeous. Naturally, Victoria is blond and curvy and gorgeous. Naturally, they immediately fall head over heels in love. Naturally, I wanted to hurl the book out the window.

“The powerful feeling of instant connection between us ran too deep to be pleasant, or even casual.”

Come on, guys. I understand instant attraction, but hitting it off with someone doesn’t mean you have to go straight to being fated lovers.

Another trope I’m beginning to loathe is the whole “sweet but spunky girl saves the damaged, undeserving guy with her angelic goodness.” Why are there so many tortured-soul boys in YA? And why can their demons only be exorcised by the power of a perky blond girl’s love?

“But where I was mad at the world, she was compassionate as she confronted the demons of a guy she’d been told to avoid and even fear.”

I’ve seen all of this before. It’s like Connors took a bunch of YA clichés and made an effort to check each one off the list. Guy calling the girl “princess”? Check. Tucking a strand of hair behind her ear? Check. Connors even went so far as to do the cheesy “admire the stars and say how beautiful they are while actually talking about the girl” bit. I’m not kidding. Here it is:

“‘Oh my gosh, that’s beautiful,’ I whispered.
‘Yeah. Beautiful.’ Mickey’s voice was husky and I turned my head and saw that he wasn’t looking at the scenery at all.
He was looking at me.”

The Lonesome Young is super melodramatic, too. In a way, some drama is justified – the mess the Rhodales and Whitfields get mired in over the course of the book is serious, life-or-death trouble. The stakes are high, and there’s no easy way out. This would actually be a strength of the book if Connors didn’t overdo it with hysterics. The events of the book speak for themselves; the characters don’t need to hammer the points home by wailing things like “This might explode into an inferno that could burn down the entire county.”

“Mickey Rhodale, for all of his dangerous, bad-boy exterior, had a hint of damaged vulnerability about him that I was pretty sure he didn’t let anybody else see, and he’s shown it to me.

Something inside me, in a very small voice, was saying, ‘Yes, of course. Finally. Here you are.’

And it scared me to death. But I had to face it head-on.”

It’s possible I’m being overly critical. Despite my raging, The Lonesome Young isn’t completely terrible. As I mentioned previously, there are several aspects I liked about this book. If it weren’t for the fact that I’ve been up to my eyeballs in instalove recently, I probably wouldn’t have been nearly so harsh in this review.

One noteworthy plus of The Lonesome Young is the complexity Connors weaves into the Whitfield and Rhodale families’ dynamics. Mickey and his half-brother Ethan share a complicated relationship, one that I was actually invested in. Mickey’s negative, dangerous experiences with Ethan in the present are countered by their more pleasant childhood memories. Like Mickey, you’re forced to wonder how the boy who used to play Three Musketeers and protect Mickey from harm came to be the person Ethan is during the events of the book.

Victoria’s family is believably flawed as well. There are moments when they’re vulnerable and human, and there are moments when they’re unreasonable and completely self-centered. They’re your classic terrible relatives without being caricatures.

Another thing I liked in The Lonesome Young is that Mickey’s not truly a bad boy. He does have some violence issues to work out, but for the most part his bad-boy reputation is an unfair one, caused by his association with his drug-dealing brothers. Mickey works hard, is honest with his parents, and stands his ground against his brothers’ negative influence. He tries to toe the line, and when he does get sucked into trouble it’s usually because his family gives him no choice in the matter. It was a relief not to have him be the typical tough guy with an attitude.

Because of these positives, I grugdingly awarded The Lonesome Young two whole stars. This is pretty generous, considering I was practically foaming at the mouth in rage for much of the book.

Review: Second Star by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

Second Star Book Cover Second Star
Alyssa B. Sheinmel

A twisty story about love, loss, and lies, this contemporary oceanside adventure is tinged with a touch of dark magic as it follows seventeen-year-old Wendy Darling on a search for her missing surfer brothers. Wendy’s journey leads her to a mysterious hidden cove inhabited by a tribe of young renegade surfers, most of them runaways like her brothers. Wendy is instantly drawn to the cove’s charismatic leader, Pete, but her search also points her toward Pete's nemesis, the drug-dealing Jas. Enigmatic, dangerous, and handsome, Jas pulls Wendy in even as she's falling hard for Pete. A radical reinvention of a classic, Second Star is an irresistible summer romance about two young men who have yet to grow up--and the troubled beauty trapped between them.

Review:

If Second Star weren’t a retelling of Peter Pan, my rating of it would be entirely different. There are some pretty big detractors – frustrating romance, a second half that feels entirely off the rails – that would result in a low rating if this were your average book. Luckily for Sheinmel, her creative reimagining of Peter Pan enchanted me enough to appease the part of me that was irritated by the questionable parts of this story.

Wendy Darling is on a mission to find her brothers, 16-year-old surfers who ran away from home to chase the waves. Nine months later, they still haven’t returned, and the police and Wendy’s parents have given up the search, convinced that the boys have perished in a surfing accident. Wendy isn’t so sure, and as soon as she graduates she takes off in pursuit of her brothers, determined to find them and bring them home.

Wendy’s hunt leads her to Kensington Beach, where she meets a scruffy band of surfers – our Lost Boys in this retelling – who live in an abandoned mansion and spend their days on the water. Wendy finds herself enticed by the boys’ carefree lifestyle, drawn into their little world of salt and sun and sand. She’s especially beguiled by the group’s leader, Pete, who teaches her to surf and whose kisses make her feel like someone new, someone whose family and world haven’t fallen apart.

As delighted as I was by the Lost Boys, I was even more impressed by Sheinmel’s clever reimagining of Captain Hook. The role of the villain is played by Jas, a drug dealer who rules the opposite side of Pete’s beach. (What happens to people who take drugs? They get hooked. Get it? Huh? Like I said, clever!!) Wendy’s investigation reveals that Jas may have a hand in her brothers’ disappearance, and when she goes to confront him she soon realizes he’s an enticing as he is dangerous.

Jas is both a positive and a negative of this book for me. On the plus side, he has this dark pull that really appealed to me. He’s smooth and sexy and magnetic, and even though he’s a “bad guy” he’s charming and educated and polite, which adds great complexity.

The downside is that all this sex appeal makes Wendy fall for him, which I didn’t think was believable. It’s one thing to be attracted to him – I certainly was – and to accept his help in finding her brothers. It’s another thing entirely to trust him and fall in love with him. He is a drug dealer, Wendy! He ruins people’s lives and is fully aware of this fact! The stuff he does is unconscionable, and he shows no signs of changing his behavior! Yet you’re into him? Please.

Something else that detracted from the book’s appeal is the question of whether Wendy’s liaisons with Pete, Jas, and the like are real or a fantasy. I was so invested in the world of Kensington that I resented being distracted with questions like, “Is this a hallucination? Does anyone else remember ever seeing Pete? Or Jas?” It seemed out of nowhere and was the number one reason I didn’t award Second Star a higher rating.

Despite these qualms, I still really liked the parallels to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan stories. I enjoyed seeing how Sheinmel wove elements from the book into her adaptation. A lot of the references were subtle, such as Jas stopping at a bar called The Jolly Roger, a description comparing Pete’s laugh to the crow of a bird, and Pete encouraging Wendy to think of something happy to help distract her while she’s trying to surf (which she says makes her feel like she’s flying). It’s a very smart and unique retelling.

Review: My Book of Life By Angel by Martine Leavitt

My Book of Life By Angel Book Cover My Book of Life By Angel
Martine Leavitt

When sixteen-year-old Angel meets Call at the mall, he buys her meals and says he loves her, and he gives her some candy that makes her feel like she can fly. Pretty soon she's addicted to his candy, and she moves in with him. As a favor, he asks her to hook up with a couple of friends of his, and then a couple more. Now Angel is stuck working the streets at Hastings and Main, a notorious spot in Vancouver, Canada, where the girls turn tricks until they disappear without a trace, and the authorities don't care. But after her friend Serena disappears, and when Call brings home a girl who is even younger and more vulnerable than her to learn the trade, Angel knows that she and the new girl have got to find a way out.

Review:

Normally, I tend to shy away from novels like My Book of Life by Angel.  Stories that feature a narrator who is the victim of abuse or exploitation are tough for me to read, partly because of how painful the subject matter can be and partly because, after a while, all of these books start to sound alike. So many YA stories about prostitution, drugs, and abuse seem to be concocted using the same recipe: two cups of melodramatic language and a heaping tablespoon of lost teens who find themselves trapped on the wrong side of the tracks with no idea how they got there.

Because of this, I was wary when I picked up My Book of Life By Angel. I was afraid it would be the same old tired tale, but I soon learned that was far from the case.

The brilliant thing about this particular novel is that the author is the master of the “show, don’t tell” approach. You understand that Angel’s life as a 16-year-old prostitute is horrific without her ever having to come out and say, “I wish I didn’t have to live like this,” or “Life on the street is hard.” In fact, all of Angel’s observations about her lifestyle are matter-of-fact. She mentions throwing up chunks of internal organs as casually as if she is remarking on the weather, and she dispassionately discusses the creepy fetishes of her “dates” without judgment. No language is wasted on rants about unhappiness or regrets. Angel’s life is what it is, and though she wishes it were different, she accepts that no amount of self-pity will do her any good.

Just because Angel is nonchalant about her lifestyle doesn’t mean she is jaded or hardened, though. If anything, the opposite is true. Despite her situation she retains hope, humanity, and even innocence. She has a tendency to find small beauties amidst an ugly reality and works on making herself a better person in small but important ways. The amazing thing about this is that it isn’t a conscious effort on her part, but rather an inherent part of who she is. Angel is a likable and utterly believable character, sweet yet strong, and her personality is what makes this novel such a treasure.

Another thing I really liked about My Book of Life By Angel is the theme of the power of words to change your life. Words are the only things Angel has that can’t be taken away from her, and throughout the course of the book she realizes that by using these words she can define who she is and who she wants to be. She can write her own story instead of allowing someone else to write it for her. Her discovery of this is a beautiful one, and it makes Leavitt’s novel stand out even more than it otherwise would.