This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Published by Sourcebooks Fire
Released on November 5, 2013
The eye catching cover did its job and hooked me in long enough that I checked out the storyline and decided that it would be a good read. It had some strong elements that pulled me in and kept me reading through to the finish pretty quickly once I was about halfway through, but there was that first part of the story with the long set up and some plot and character development bits that got to me. I think if I hadn’t caught on to what was really going on then it might have been different, but I did cotton to the truth early on and it was just a waiting time for Scarlet and everyone else to figure stuff out. For those who are riding things out along with Scarlet wondering what’s going on, it probably feels like a more intense read.
Scarlet is a girl with a broken heart- I mean literally. She has a physical defect that has kept her on the verge of death since she can remember. Now her dad and step-mom has agreed to let her attend school for the first time. She gets a week to prove that she can hack it. Scarlet’s first day starts out ominous and just gets worse when she draws the attention of the school bully by tripping him up with her bag and then drawing the ridicule of all the kids that scent out that she’s different and vulnerable. It doesn’t help that her overprotective step-mom is the school nurse and keeps stepping in and drawing more attention to Scarlet. The only bright spot of her day was joining up with her Peer Mediation group. There, she is matched up with three other school oddities- Nessa, Celina and Jordan. Jordan is in the grade above her and her locker mate. He’s quiet and doesn’t say much, but he’s empathetic. Celina seems to be a brilliant girl, but she hides inside her hoodie much of the time. Nessa swings drastically with her moods. Scarlet figures out that Jordan and Nessa are there because they need extra support after the suicide death of Nessa’s sister who is also Jordan’s girlfriend. Celina’s situation takes a bit longer to unravel. There is also nice guy Tony who shares a few classes with her and is keen on being her biology partner and sharing a project that will involve studying Scarlet’s genetic history.
Scarlet is happy to have made a few friends, but that is the only good thing as the bullying escalates and her step-mom grows more adamant that she needs to quit this idea of school and get the auto defibrillator installed through surgery and she definitely needs to stay away from her new group of misfit friends. Scarlet clings on to her wish to finish out her week and as she gets to know these friends she wants to be a friend right back for them. Only things escalate and Scarlet is way out of her league.
The story is told first person all from Scarlet’s perspective. Now while I can appreciate and even found it intriguing to know what it was like for a girl who has pretty much grown up in hospitals and isolated to finally get her chance at ‘normal’ life, there was also a rather depressed and defeatist tone to her thinking. My guess is that this would probably be spot on, but it really didn’t leave me feeling much more than pity for her and I didn’t really like her as much as I liked the kids around her.
Scarlet is really stuck in her own head and this left me skimming many times once I got the gist of what was on her mind. She’s exposed to the strange new world of high school yet her view is pretty introspective. Now granted, she gets this when she is slapped up side the head with the fact that hey other kids have some pretty crappy situations too.
The unhealthy relationship between her and her step-mom got to me too. Scarlet is practically a kid still so I couldn’t get mad at her for being so influenced by this woman particularly when her function is life monitor as well as parent. I’m mad at the woman for creating that unhealthy dependency. This was one of those books that hit one of my pet peeves of absent parenting too. Scarlet’s dad has a traveling salesman like job and he has absolutely nothing to do with her life. He totally gave it over to the step-mom and checked out as a parent.
And if Scarlet’s life wasn’t bleak enough, each of her Peer team and Tony all have really tough lives. Heck, even the bully didn’t exactly have a stellar home situation. So the tone was a downer.
The plot itself was a strong one and engaging most of the time. I felt that many things that stuck out prominently throughout the story weren’t really addressed well in the end and then it just ended leaving things really open in many ways. I found the pace slow through most of the book as the little moves were made to set up what was to come. Then boom, it was off to the races in the end for a heartracing finish and a ‘let’s pick up the pieces’ denouement. I needed more closure with certain things that I’ll keep quiet about so I don’t spoil it.
All in all, I liked reading this one and was vested enough to want to finish it, but I found a few things problematic for full enjoyment. This is a YA book that would be safe in the hands of even the younger teens. It sends a pretty strong message about kids being bullied and what its like for a terminally ill child to want to be normal. This one does dip into the more of a melancholy feel so this one is for those who enjoy their YA Contemporaries with more of a raw feel and less softness around the edges.
My thanks to Netgalley for providing the review copy of this book.