A potentially spoilery review in places, you’ve been warned.
Years ago, Clara survived a vicious bear attack. She’s used to getting sympathetic looks around town, but meeting strangers is a different story. Yet her dreams go far beyond Knik, Alaska, and now she’s got a secret that’s both thrilling and terrifying–an acceptance letter from Columbia University. But it turns out her scars aren’t as fixable as she hoped, and when her boyfriend begins to press for a forever commitment, she has second thoughts about New York. Then Rhodes, a student teacher in her English class, forces her to acknowledge her writing talent, and everything becomes even more confusing–especially with the feelings she’s starting to have about him. Now all Clara wants to do is hide from the tough choices she has to make. When her world comes crashing down around her, Clara has to confront her problems and find her way to a decision. Will she choose the life of her dreams or the life that someone she loves has chosen? Which choice is scarier?
Find it on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25407275-has-to-be-love
Order it on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1Yh1MuB
3.5 stars — I received a paperback ARC of this book from the author!!
I’m having a tough time deciding whether to round up or down on this one, and I think I’ll surprise even myself if I can make a decision…. The thing about this book is that the first half (maybe more than half, I don’t remember) was a solid 5 star read!! But it didn’t remain that way, and I actually had a lot of not so liking feels for a portion of the second half. But then it ended kind of 4 star for me. So I’m trying to balance my overall feels and decide what my overall view is. How much did that second half take away from my enjoyment?? Hmmm….
So this review is going to be hard in more than one way because I ended up laying in bed analyzing why I felt the way I did, and I can’t decide if what I want to share is spoilery in any way. So please proceed reading this paragraph with caution (I won’t put spoiler tags around it, but you’ve been warned). See, a significant part of the problem for me lie in my own *expectations* for this book. I expected a romance, and what I got was a coming of age story…. Not that there weren’t elements of romance in this book, but I still wouldn’t personally call this a romance book. Because, and maybe this is just me, in every romance book I read there is a formula. There is a book *boy*. (I mean yes, I know, there are love triangles and all that stuff, but let’s just simplify for a moment). And so when I’m expecting a romance *book*, I can’t help but in the back of my mind spend a lot of time wondering who the book boy is going to be. But that’s not really what this book was about. And my expectations kind of sabotaged my reading. I’m not sure if I’m even making sense, but I guess I just wish I’d been more open going into it, then perhaps I would have appreciated parts of the story more instead of getting myself confused.
OK, so I feel better having that out of the way. So what did I love (especially in that first half)?? Ms. Perry knows how to pull out all my feels, and I really did feel for Clara and all the choices that she was bombarded with. I went in knowing I was probably going to get a very realistic teenager, and so I wasn’t as frustrated with Clara behaving in a way that, let’s be honest, many of us would have behaved at that age. I felt like her struggles were very real, and something that many teenagers face, so it was refreshing to have a relevant story. It was refreshing to have a girl feel those raging hormones just as much as a boy….and to have them affect her judgement at times. I didn’t go through that as a teenager personally, but I’ve always felt like it was kind of a double standard the way boys and girls are portrayed in so many books. It was refreshing to have a story where religion played a part, but where it wasn’t all that the character was about — where her being religious did not make her a perfect character. She experienced doubt and struggled with her beliefs. But most of all it was refreshing to read a story that was all about the choices that a teenager faces about their future, from the future of their current relationships, to deciding who they want to be and facing the fear of where that might take them.
So, other than my expectations tainting my reading, where did it go wrong for me? I guess I just didn’t feel like I got to watch Clara grow as much as I would have liked. I would feel like she was starting to grow, but then it would halt and she would revert back. And again, I guess that’s kind of realistic, but part of why I read a coming of age story is to see their growth. And in the end I didn’t feel like I got that from Clara. Maybe it’s because I decided I didn’t want to put the book down, so I read until 3am and my mind was cloudy. But there were parts where I know I was supposed to feel one way, and I ended up feeling another. [SPOILER]Like in the first half I didn’t feel the genuine conviction from her about wanting to wait for marriage…it felt like she just believed it because she was supposed to believe it. But then so much of the disgust she felt after the incident with Rhodes came from that supposed conviction, and I guess I just wish that at some point I was shown how that conviction was reinforced for her…I don’t think I’m making sense, but I guess I just didn’t like how much shame she felt, and how she felt so gross b/c it felt like an outside force instead of something coming from deep held beliefs.[END SPOILER] Looking back I can see what the author was trying to do at certain points, but for some reason it fell flat to me. Maybe I just wanted to see her start making more conscious choices, instead of having those choices be so reactionary.
So now that I’ve written the world’s longest essay review (though not really, b/c I’ve seen some of the reviews on goodreads), how in the world did I still come up with a 3.5-4 star review? The problem is that it’s so much easier to explain where things go wrong than where things go right. I laughed in this book. I smiled. I bawled with Clara along her ride — I felt for her even when she made the bad choices and had to deal with them. I enjoyed how the writing made me feel — there was a lot of beautiful imagery. And I really liked the way the book ended. It felt like I got something back at that point that I was really wanting. And when a book starts and ends with a bang, sometimes the middle doesn’t matter as much in the overall scheme of things.