This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Released on September 30, 2014
I was struck by the fun fall cover and the heartwarming blurb. It has been a while since I read a YA contemporary romance so I dove in eagerly. This story was exactly what I imagined it would be before I started, but I still engaged and connected with the story of this pair of teens that take the opposite sides of the track to the extreme with a girl from the middle class and a boy who is homeless. Both suffered personal tragedy and both made due in their own ways. There are some rather pointed ‘teaching’ moments in this one, but the lessons were worthy and didn’t interfere with the plot’s pace so I didn’t get hung up on it.
Anna is an overachiever who focuses on her end goal and pushes aside everything else as unnecessary. She has a planner full of steps to her plan and that includes straight As, volunteering for her student portfolio and ignoring the pain and loneliness of her broken family as much as she can. After her dad was gone, her mom checked out of their lives and her brother got out as fast as he could. Anna has learned to guard her heart so people can’t break it when they leave. This is why she is so careful when she does her volunteering at her friend’s soup kitchen. She doesn’t want to care about the people who come because she can’t help anyone even herself. Then she makes eye contact with a bruised and battered face of a guy her own age looking like he has given up on the world. Anna decides to take one last chance on a person that know one in their right mind would trust.
Dean has been on the streets for a couple of years. Long enough to become savvy, mistrustful and closed off. It doesn’t pay to get involved or care because then they can hurt you. Let your guard down a little and you’ll end up beat within an inch of your life and robbed of the few precious dollars you have and minus your blanket against the fall chill. Dean can’t be guaranteed a cot at the Y and the soup kitchen is only open a few times a week. Saturdays and sunny afternoons he goes from house to house looking for work raking or anything else people need done. The only reason he keeps going is that someday he hopes to find the sister he lost when they were separated in the foster care system. He hopes that she found better and safer places to land than he did with his drunk abusing guardians. Dean has just been surviving until the pushy, control freak Anna enters his life and challenges him to live for more than the present and to dream of themes that aren’t for someone like him.
The story is told in alternating first person perspective. It starts out with both hesitant and guarded. Dean has to learn to accept help and that he can truly reach for a better life. Anna has to learn that she doesn’t have to control everything and its okay to just take time to enjoy life. The author does a good job of painting their respective worlds with dignity. Both are not totally caught up in each other either. Anna has her friend, her school and her volunteer work. Dean has a few friends and his attempt to self-educate at the library and work on his GED. Their romance is more of a friendship that becomes more as they spend time knowing each other better. They have their times of temptation, but it stays on the sweet side.
At first, I was leery of the absent parent thing with Anna’s mom, but their lack of relationship and little time together was one of the things that needed work and was not considered acceptable. In fact, parents being there- or in this case- not being there for their kids and thus the kids and whole family suffers is a pointed theme. Anna’s mom let her grief separate her from her kids. Wanda’s parents couldn’t accept her sexual orientation and chose to kick her out of their lives. Dean’s parents left unwillingly through their deaths and a string of indifferent or awful foster parents made homelessness preferable.
I love that the story is told during the fall and that it ends with Thanksgiving as the symbolically good place to resolve it all particularly after the hard times these two and their friends have endured. Anna and Dean settle it between them that its okay to have things and circumstances so long as its appreciated with an eye for the fact that others might not be as fortunate at no fault of their own so needed to be treated with respect.
Teen Cautions: I would suggest for mid-to older teens for the strong language, mild partying, and moderate violence. The romance is mild and appropriate for any level of teen.
All in all, it was a poignant story with endearing characters and a slower pace. The themes were strong without overpowering the story. I would definitely recommend this for anyone who enjoys YA Contemporary Romance on the sweeter side.
My thanks to Net Galley and Mark My Words for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.