by Brooke Taylor
Walker Books, July 2008
Reviewed by Melissa
My first impression of this book -- Taylor's first published work -- was that it was just a knock-off of the Prinz Award-winning book Looking for Alaska, by John Green. And, admittedly, there is much that is similar: an average teenager (in this case, Serena) is attracted to a more dangerous girl (Kori) because he/she is missing something in their life. Either that, or they're just attracted to the dangerous, the unknown. Said dangerous girl dies in freak car accident and leftover teenage friend has to deal with dangerous girl's death, in this case by following through with Kori's list of "five things to tempt fate". But, that's where the similarities end. Whereas Green's book was a musing on life and whether or not it's worth living and how friends fit into all that, Taylor's book is ultimately a treatise on keeping and discovering secrets.
For a good portion of the book, I was annoyed. Mostly at Serena: for feeling such devotion to Kori, for to take over Kori's life when she died, for not seeing the good that was right in front of her. I questioned her decisions, her motives, and while intellectually I could see the reason for them, emotionally I was repelled by her. She often took things too the extreme, and I often wondered where her backbone, her sense of independence was. Granted, part of that was worked out over the course of the novel, but I often found myself rolling my eyes, gritting my teeth, or generally having what I would call a "mom reaction". I wasn't able to put my momishness aside enough to really enjoy the novel.
I also found that I didn't really like any of the other characters -- from her friend Kori, to the boys in the book, to (and possibly especially) her mom. There wasn't anyone sympathetic, who didn't grate on my nerves. Which made the novel difficult to read for me, at least.
But, as I neared the end of the book, I realized that irritation was one of the emotions that Taylor was going for. The ending really caught me off guard -- not because it was a surprise, but because it was so good. It had all the elements of a good ending: consistent with characters, revealing, interesting, and with a bit of a "happily ever after (maybe)" thrown in. In fact, I was amazed at how well Taylor managed the tone of the book. There's a discernable shift in it, from the angst-ridden, anarchist beginning to the more honest, reconciliatory, hopeful ending. I found myself repenting of my harsh emotions toward pretty much everyone in the book -- they're just struggling to find their path, after all -- and understanding more what Taylor was trying to portray. And I found it very satisfying in the way that Taylor depicted growth, change, and a maturing of all her characters. That didn't change my feelings about the whole book entirely, but it did soften them.
The book is interesting for its tone and character development, and if your the sort of person for whom excessive behavior in teenagers doesn't grate, then this book is a good read. Otherwise, I suggest you take a pass. The irritation isn't worth the ending.