Sex scenes: one scene, fade-out-ish
Sex scenes: one scene, fade-out-ish
June had always been the perfect daughter. The eldest of two girls, she was the prettier sibling with the perfect grades, perfect GPA, perfect friends, perfect extra-curriculars with the brightest future ahead of her. Harper is the rebel child: she’s never been able to live up to her parents expectations of her and so has taken to smoking, never expanding her clothing choices beyond a hoodie and jeans and barely scrapes by in school. June’s suicide leaves a chasm that the defiant Harper has no wish to fill.
No one had had any idea that June was suicidal; she hadn’t even left a note. Harper had been the one to find her: lying as if asleep in the backseat of her car, still in the garage, an empty bottle of sleeping pills beside her. Their family life had already been pretty dysfunctional what with their parent’s less-than-amicable divorce, but now so more than ever. Harper’s father has disappeared off into his new life with his new girlfriend and her mother is like a zombie, unable to go through the motions of everyday life without the pious Aunt Helen to coddle over her. Everybody is distraught but Harper can’t even cry.
Harper first meets Jake Tolan at June’s wake. She escapes to the garden from the pitying glances and condolences and finds Jake smoking. He doesn’t look like one of June’s friends and she later discovers that June used to tutor him. When Harper finds among June’s belongings a mix-CD that Jake made for her sister with the phrase ‘don’t let the bastards grind you down’, her curiosity piques. Her sister had been in a long-term relationship with Tyler, the music-obsessed Jake seems to have brought out a side of June that no one else had ever seen.
With her best friend Laney, Harper decides to take June’s ashes on a road trip to California, believing this to be a better fate for June than what her parents had planned: splitting the ashes between them. June had been accepted to Berkley and California had always been her dream, but had finally agreed to go to the state college because they hadn’t the money to send her all the way to California. The problem: Laney’s car has broken down. This is where Jake gallantly steps in and the trio start off across the country with Jake’s eclectic collection of CDs for company.
Harper really really pissed me off. There’s protagonists that you want to strangle, and then there’s ones that you want to strangle, drown and beat up just short of unconscious, and then defenestrate (I like that there’s a word specifically for the action) for good measure. If you hadn’t guessed, I want to do to Harper the latter. I’ve read my fair share of angsty teen-heroines, but Harper really takes the bag. It’s her attitude that does it for me.
I can get her selfishness. Her sister has just killed herself and Harper was the one to find her; anyone in her position would be shaken. I can even get that she can’t cry: Harper and June didn’t have the closest of relationships and Harper’s last words to her sister were ones of anger – there’s got to be some residual guilt/blame floating around there somewhere that everyone else seems so much more upset than she does. God, I hate this psychology shit.
Despite all these free passes that I’m giving her, she still deserves a slap around the face or two for some of the things she said. Laney and Jake have gone all out to travel across the country with her so that she can leave this last tribute to June, yet every once in a while, she says something that leaves me open-mouthed thinking nothing but WTF??? There are just some things that you don’t say to people, yet Harper manages all of them in the worst possible way. Her mood swings are worse than a seven-month pregnant woman and she doesn’t have an ounce of tact in her body. I wouldn’t have Harper as a friend if she begged me.
Jake annoyed me too. He was sweet at times and I’m glad that June helped him turn his life around but he was such a walkover. Yes, there were times when he stood up for himself, but some of the things that Harper said were so outrageous that (and I’m not advocating domestic violence here) if I were him, I would have wanted to sock her one. He desperately needs to grow a spine.
Another thing I don’t quite understand is why he so willingly agreed to cart Harper and Laney across the country. Yes, he probably felt a little grateful and in debt to June, but one thing that left me more than a bit incredulous was where the hell he got all the money to pay for all the petrol to get across the country, not to mention all the times we see him pay for stuff. He has a job in the music shop that his brother manages, but that doesn’t make him a walking ATM.
They didn’t just sit in the van all the way to California. There were stops along the way: to see Jake’s friends, to attend a protest, to visit more friends. I was bored. The aim of road-trip books is generally to allow the protagonist to get away from their regular life, travel into the unknown and find their inner peace etc etc. I’ve read a few YA road-trip books (Rules of the Road is brilliant) and when done well, are very enjoyable reads; this wasn’t one of them. Harper managed to fulfil her aims in California and returned home a less angry person, but I don’t really see the connections between the end results and what they experienced on their trip to get there. Nothing they saw or did seemed to be of particular significance and I’m left feeling very unsatisfied.
I think the biggest reason why I disliked this book is because I couldn’t connect with Harper. She doesn’t ever say or do anything to endear herself to the reader and I found myself waiting for her next outburst just so that I could find another reason to dislike her. I’m amazed that I managed to finish this book at all, let alone the review, so that is at least something to be pleased about. On the up side, the cover as above is pretty but unfortunately not the one which I had.
Image courtesy of Fantastic Fiction