Wednesday, December 14, 2016

What we're reading: Romance with issues

The Problem with Forever, by Jennifer Armentrout, is...well...that it goes on for, know?

I hovered over the three-star rating I'm giving it. I hovered. Because there IS a gap between "I liked it" and "it was okay," and I wasn't sure we had bridged that gap.

There were parts of this book I did like. First of all, kudos to Armentrout for taking on this subject matter--children who are severely damaged by falling through the cracks of the foster care system. That's the main reason I picked up the book, was to experience the dynamic between foster kids, the flawed system, and the horrifying possibilities if the people who took you in didn't have your best interests at heart.

I liked that both Mallory and Rider got out, that they were able to find people who cared about them, and who were willing to help them work through all the deficits their background caused, so they could begin to have a real life. And speaking of real life, I liked the detail of the book The Velveteen Rabbit being their solace. But...

First of all, if she had typed just ONE MORE ELLIPSE, I was going to throw the book across the room. Mallory, after 13 years of being told not to speak (she was trying to avoid unwanted attention from her violent foster father), finds talking a big hurdle. So she chokes, she stutters, she strains to get words out, and...she...pauses. A lot. Thus...the ellipses. The weird thing about Mallory's speaking problem was that once she did manage to say something, she then said it again...and again...and again, in slightly different words. This resulted in a book of more than 400 pages. Editor, listen up: This book could have been 250 pages and been just as (or probably more) effective with some judicious pruning.

Romance is a big, important part of this book. In fact, I would say the book is dominated by it, although that wasn't its stated theme (abandoned foster children, remember?). The descriptions of first love are sweet (and sometimes a little cringe-worthy), and that aspect of the book felt real and touching. But...I have to ask: Has anyone ever met, in real life, a boy as hot as Rider was in high school, and with a name like Rider Stark? C'mon. These are the fantasies that paperback romance novels with Fabio on the cover are made of! Also, because Mallory has been home-schooled by the people who saved and adopted her, although she is a senior in high school she is experiencing all the angst usually reserved for stories about freshmen; so even though there are feelings and physicality appropriate to older teens, the emotional age of the protagonist is young.

It would be nice if, just once, it wasn't the girl (Rider's nickname for her is Mouse) who is the weak, conflicted, helpless one who needs protecting, encouraging, care-taking, coddling. That theme does get flipped--a little bit--by the end of the book...but the tale of Mallory's shortcomings previous to that is nearly interminable.

So as I said, I waffled, I hovered, but then I gave it the three stars, mostly for effort. I know that some teens will love this book passionately for all the reasons I found to be critical of it, and that's okay. It's not a bad book, it's just not quite what I was looking for. (It does have a pretty watercolor cover.)

Those who really want to read a book focused more on foster care and less on romance could try The Last Chance Texaco, by Brent Hartinger, The Boy From the Basement, by Susan Shaw, Orbiting Jupiter, by Gary D. Schmidt, or What I Call Life, by Jill Wolfson. For older teens (a little edgier and more mature), try Ron Koertge's Strays, and Solace of the Road, by Siobhan Dowd.

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