Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Review: The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord

Title: The Start of Me and You
Author: Emery Lord
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication date: March 31st, 2015
Genres: Young adult fiction, Contemporary, Romance, Friendship

The Start of Me and You
It’s been a year since it happened—when Paige Hancock’s first boyfriend died in an accident. After shutting out the world for two years, Paige is finally ready for a second chance at high school . . . and she has a plan. First: Get her old crush, Ryan Chase, to date her—the perfect way to convince everyone she’s back to normal. Next: Join a club—simple, it’s high school after all. But when Ryan’s sweet, nerdy cousin, Max, moves to town and recruits Paige for the Quiz Bowl team (of all things!) her perfect plan is thrown for a serious loop. Will Paige be able to face her fears and finally open herself up to the life she was meant to live?
Back in 2014 I fell in love with Emery Lord's debut novel, Open Road Summer. It was the quintessential contemporary novel in my eyes, so of course I jumped at the opportunity to read more from her. The Start of Me and You gave off a different vibe, not nearly as playful or witty. From the premise it seemed this story would something more in the same vein as Gayle Forman's novels, and if you know me, you'll know that Gayle Forman's novels are my absolute favourite.

The thing I admire most about Emery Lord is her ability to tell stories about teenagers in such a genuine manner. Her ability to infiltrate the mind of a teenage girl allows her stories to be told truthfully and in a way that highlights how struggles are a universal occurrence, and yes, young people have them too. This book isn't just a love story, but more of a coming of age story with a large focus on relationships, particularly friendships and family dynamics.

The Start of Me and You introduces us to Paige Hancock, who for the past two years has been recovering from the death of her boyfriend Aaron. Paige was pretty ordinary in my opinion. There really wasn't all that much to her character apart from her connection to Aaron. She's supposedly very intelligent, however, it really didn't shine through for me. Maybe it's a side effect of her loss? I'm not too sure, but I feel Paige's character wasn't as strong as some of the others in this book, which is a shame considering she is the protagonist. She was described to be a model student, good friend, as well as a great big sister and daughter, however I feel that her 'grief' overshadowed her character, and I didn't really get to identify these qualities within her.

The novel explores Paige's search for a second chance, and the courage it takes to move on. Though she hardly knew Aaron, Paige really opened up to him, and often letting people in leaves you vulnerable. Imagine how much more vulnerable you are when that person is taken away from you in an instant. For some unknown reason I was able to empathise with Paige. I understood how Aaron's death weighed on her, not exactly a burden, but placing her in a strange spot, where everyone in town know's her as the 'girl whose boyfriend drowned' when in reality, she hardly knew him at all. I can understand that she might feel guilty that all these people feel sorry for her, but I also saw how awkward it could be to have spent more time dealing with his death than being with him whilst he was alive. It's her own sort of limbo. She's is forever getting 'that look', which is a constant reminder of a relationship that was never given the opportunity to bloom.

"The idea of us still hung in the air, but we'd never be more than a few golden memories and a bundle of what-ifs. How do you find closure in that - especially when strangers treat you like a widow to a devoted husband?"

Aaron's death also caused Paige to suffer from PTSD. She is plagued with nightmares of receiving the same fate, drowning. As any PTSD suffering teen would, she's sought help from a therapist in an attempt to move on and be the 'normal teenager' she once was.

Realistically, it is Paige's group of friends that keep her grounded, and help her stay sane. Emery Lord writes phenomenal relationships, be it friendly or romantic. Paige's group consists of Tessa, Morgan and Kayleigh. Often in friendship groups like these, I get confused because I'm not able to distinguish the girls from one another, however that was not an issue here. These girls came to life quite vividly, with their individual traits and habits. I think I could see them so clearly because I they reminded me of people I know, that just goes to show how genuine her personalities can be. Another thing I admired about this group of friends is that there was no cattiness, and there wasn't the one girl in the group trying to undermine the protagonist (I hate that trope with a burning passion). Sure, they had their disagreements, as all friends do, in fact they closely resemble arguments I've had with my own friends in the past. Though Paige's friends have been such a defining factor in her attempts to move on, it seems Paige is itching for more. So she comes up with a plan, as any type-A teenaged girl would and writes it on a post-it in the back of her planner.

Paige's type-A behaviour was something I identified with.  I have my obsessive tendencies. But the huge flaw with her plan, is that one of the biggest things on her 'How to be a normal teenager again' list, is to date. In particular, date Ryan Chase, who she'd been crushing on forever. I'm not a huge fan of girls who feel that they need a boyfriend, or relationship to complete them. However, this played a role in Paige's character arc, and in the end I was more forgiving but during my reading, it annoyed the heck out of me.

Paige behaves as if there is a gaping void in her life, that was once filled with Aaron, and that she now has an incessant needs for another boyfriend to fill this hole. She's so busy fawning over Ryan, and pre-planning her interactions with him that it becomes a little bit painful to read. Though I liked Ryan's character, I didn't want them to end up together because I could tell that the basis of their relationship would have been a little unstable. It was as though her actions were bricks and she was carefully laying them to 'build' a connection between the two of them. Only maybe she had forgotten to lay some concrete, because it wasn't a very stable connection. Paige is so occupied with her 'love' for Ryan that she almost fails to notice that she has almost completely fallen for his cousin, Max.

Ah, Max Watson. He's your picture perfect geek. He loves math, riddles, wears shirts with geeky references and puns on them, fanboys over science fiction and is close with his mother. What more could you want? Max was the quintessential geeky guy, and I have a soft spot for him in my heart. Max challenges Paige to step out of her comfort zone and whilst it may seem a little too much, you can really feel that he means to do well. It's clear to see he truly cares for her and just wants to help her to be happy once more. The romance between the two of them was definitely slow-burning, and though I really loved them together, it felt like it was lacking something. A little bit of pizazz perhaps? It was cute, but I'd expected something a little more substantial. Cute just doesn't cut it for me!

The book also features some strong family dynamics. Paige is very close with her grandmother who suffers from Alzheimer's. The addition of this relationship was sweet, and it was nice to see that Paige had someone to vent to about things such as boys, and even her friends. But over time her grandmother's condition deteriorated, and whilst it was sad, I feel like it was meant to be. As the story progressed Paige became stronger, happier and more courageous, and needed her grandmother less and less. Maybe her grandmother had been waiting for her to be happy again before she passed on? I don't know, but it really felt like it was meant to be. Paige's relationship with her parents was also kind of tricky, especially since they had divorced but were dating once again. As someone with divorced parents I can understand how truly difficult and shocking that could be. Apart from that drama, her parents didn't play a huge role. Her mother was a little bit protective, but it was understandable considering the Aaron situation.

Plot-wise, the book was slightly predictable, but in the sense that it felt like the natural progression of these characters. It felt honest, and as though these characters truly lived it out. The writing was succinct and sweet, and the voice completely accurate. It was made all the more genuine with the addition of pop culture references to tv shows, movies and books. There were a few John Green references which felt like they belonged, it is what the general teenage population would be reading after all. BUT GUESS WHAT? THERE WAS A LILAH MONTGOMERY MENTION!! I almost damn near had a heart attack! I loved it! It almost made me want to reread Open Road Summer. (I just might.)

The Start of Me and You was sweet, with its slow burning romance and geeky references, and whilst I thoroughly enjoyed it, I simply didn't love it. It lacked a certain 'it' factor that I can't quite put my finger on, but it stands quite well. If you're looking for friendships, a bit of family and an incredibly cute friendship turned relationship, you've got it! I can definitely see how this book may shine, for the most part I was on board, but it just quite didn't jump out at me. (Open Road Summer remains my favourite of Emery Lord's novels!)

3.5 out of 5 keys to my heart

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