Another YA RITA® Reader Challenge review, this time written by me. Please note: there are spoilers in the review below, but I’ve whited them out. You have to highlight to read them, but consider yourself warned.
Synopsis (sort of): Sometimes I still wake up shivering in the early hours of the morning, drowning in dreams of being out there in the ocean that summer, of looking up at the moon and feeling as invisible and free as a fish. But I’m jumping ahead, and to tell the story right I have to go back to the very beginning. To a place called Indigo Beach. To a boy with pale skin that glowed against the dark waves. To the start of something neither of us could have predicted, and which would mark us forever, making everything that came after and before seem like it belonged to another life.
My name is Mia Gordon: I was sixteen years old, and I remember everything.
I don’t know if I can contain how irritated I am that this is tagged as a romance, being lauded as a romance and nominated for an award for romance writing when IT is NOT a ROMANCE.
It is romantic but it is not a romance. I finished it and I was pissed off.
Can you guess that my readerly expectations were not met?
Problem the first: The heroine’s parents are caricatures who shift in the heroine’s perception through the course of the story. There’s her mother, who is cruel to her daughter to the point that I wanted her to fall out of a window in a drunken pile. Yet as the story progresses the heroine appreciates and understands her mother’s history more, and as a reader I was invited to have sympathy for someone I had deep and burning desires to assault. There wasn’t enough motivation for me to change my opinion of her, and there wasn’t enough motivation for me to understand Mia’s change of perception either. Then there’s Mia’s aunt, who Mia adores and wishes her mother resembled more, but then Mia’s understanding of her aunt shifts as she learns more about her, her family, her daughter and her life. I liked the facet of coming-of-age that Mia explored, of seeing grown ups as fallible humans with strengths and weaknesses. But Mia’s aunt is still one of the few adults who is kind to her while her own mother is cruel and thoughtless, and that bore more weight in my opinion of the character than anything Mia learned about either woman.
Problem the second: the adults in this story are completely stupid. Example: they leave the liquor unattended, leave a pile of teenagers equally unattended in a house in the Hamptons and are surprised when there’s a liquor-fueled party going on when they return. Really? I would have understood had the adults been pissed off not that there was a party but that the teens weren’t smart enough to clean it up and have everyone gone by the time the adults returned so the adults wouldn’t have to go through the motions of punishment. But the adults were pissed off that the teens, who were behaving pretty consistently throughout the story, threw a party. There was a lack of cluefullness going on in the parental region.
The hero, Simon, is endearing but in an artificial, posturing way, and Mia was more eager to see through his playacting and persona than I was. Simon also has many secrets, some of which are revealed and somewhat… not resolved really. I don’t want to give away too much (which I’m about to do below). The wrongs done to Simon are groveled about by the appropriate character in a way that was totally false to me. Again, another adult behaved in a way that made no sense from my perspective.
Mia herself I had some sympathy for. She comes to the beach expecting to have an amazing summer with her cousin, only to find that her cousin has outgrown her, adopted a grating, barely-sophisticated personality, and would rather hang with some very snobby, dimwitted rich kids than Mia. Mia’s younger sister is more popular than she is with the same much-adored cousin. Mia’s too chubby to be popular, and her mother says as much, which, OUCH. Mia tries to fit in, fails miserably and only her late night escapes with Simon out to the beach in the dark save her summer from total misery. While her cousin and sister try to have a summer that consists of being seen and being publicly popular, Mia finds a secret relationship and a secret world all her own on the beach at night. Mia’s character grows the most in that time, and in a lot of ways finds her own personal strength in the darkness with Simon.
But here’s the part where I get irate, and I’m putting it all in white so if you don’t want to read the spoiler, you don’t have to. Highlight to read.
The definition for the RITA for YA romance reads, “Novels with a strong romantic theme geared toward young adult readers. Judging guidelines: In this category, the love story is an important element of the novel, and the end of the book is emotionally satisfying and optimistic.”
This book pulls a Nicholas Sparks.
You know what I mean by that? The HERO. DIES. In the END OF THE BOOK.
HOW is that optimistic? What in the hell is that? It’s not a happily ever after, and it’s not optimistic, either. It is not a romance. NOT A ROMANCE.
So what the hell is it doing in the RITAs?!
NB: This book appears to be part of a series, if the “Summer #1″ designation on GoodReads is any indication.
My dissatisfaction with the ending is what ultimately makes this book difficult to evaluate. The writing was smooth, and the descriptions of the beach, the setting, and Mia’s perspective were sometimes haunting and frequently beautiful. Howell is not a bad writer at all and I would pick up a book with her name on it, particularly due to the strength of the first person narration of Mia, which was often painfully real. But the wooden behavior of the adults, their collective odd behavior, and the ending combined to leave me dissatisfied with the book, the story, and the time I invested in reading it, and most of all confused as to why it’s nominated in an award that celebrates romance.