What a great read. There’s so much to like in this book. I think my favourite thing was the deaf character, Sam, who speaks American Sign Language—it’s always so great to see convincingly portrayed characters with disabilities as significant players in a book. And he’s so lovely!
A close second was Wendy’s relationship with her elderly neighbour, Mrs V., who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. The elderly are so often invisible in our society—and in our entertainment—so this significant relationship and important plot strand were very welcome. It also played out in a convincing and moving way.
I also loved the mystery involving an interracial romance at a time when that was not widely accepted. However, I both liked, and disliked, the fact that it all ended up tying up so very neatly in the modern day. Very contradictory of me, I know, but I can’t quite decide how I feel about that!
Another thing I couldn’t quite decide how I felt about was the presentation of the ‘blended’ family. With divorce and remarriage so prevalent nowadays, this is a reality for many teens, and it’s great for them to see an honest treatment of it, not minimising the challenges, but showing that it can be made to work well. But I’m always, simultaneously, uneasy about the consequences of taking the normalising of something of this nature too far. No one wants teens in this situation to feel bad, to struggle, let alone to be bullied. But if divorce and remarriage are normalised in their minds, they are more likely to repeat the cycle themselves. This dilemma is not specific to this book, of course, and I have chewed on it for a long time and have no answer. The portrayal of a blended family is certainly done very well in this book and should help teens dealing with such situations.
This next bit of this review is only relevant to Catholics. I was under the impression that this was a ‘Catholic’ book about a Catholic protagonist and family. Quite honestly, that’s not made clear at all—though I should note that I have not read book 1, so maybe it is made crystal clear there. To check that I hadn’t missed anything in this book (I was reading fast, very eager to find out what was going to happen) I actually did a search for specifically Catholic words and the only one I found was ‘Mass’, which appears once. So if you’re looking for a specifically Catholic book, this isn’t the one for you. It’s a vaguely, gently Christian book and a very nice read, but I’d hesitate to label it as specifically ‘Catholic’.
This raises a slight problem for Catholic readers, because consistent with the lack of explicit Catholicism, the author also omits even one single sentence, one tiny nod, to the idea that the mother of the protagonist might have acquired an annulment before remarrying. Since the protagonist’s father is alive, this gives an extremely bad impression. I read somewhere that the author felt that readers would ‘assume’ the annulment. But with such a deafening silence on the subject and with the family’s Catholicism not made explicit, I would have assumed the exact opposite and I imagine many teens growing up in our current culture will as well. So if you are Catholic, you will NEED to have a conversation with your teens about annulments after they read this book and make sure they did understand that ‘of course Wendy’s mother wouldn’t have remarried without one’.
Catholic bit over!
The only other thing that made me slightly uncomfortable in this book was that the teen protagonist kisses a boy on her first date. Not her first date with that particular boy, but her very first date, EVER. And that’s presented as normal and healthy. There seems to be a bit of a convention in teen fiction that a kiss doesn’t ‘count’ as sexual activity, but as something utterly sweet and innocent, and this book is far from alone in following this convention. However, this doesn’t really tally with reality and I do question how easily teens getting physical right from the get-go are going to manage to wait for marriage.
Overall, though, I really enjoyed the book, and I think it could be a great jumping off point for conversations about a really wide range of issues and topics. I’m certainly looking forward to reading the rest of the series, and especially to seeing more of Sam! I think he’s definitely my favourite character.
[I am acquainted with the author through author groups but purchased my own copy of this book to read and review. Opinions my own.]