This book is a very difficult one to summarize, or even box into one genre, but I am going to try. My first instinct is to slot it as YA contemporary, but there is also some fantasy/ alternate reality, a little time-travel – so you see, it is a mixed bag of sorts.
The plot revolves around Natalie, a girl of Native American origin, adopted into an all white family. She lives in a small town in Kentucky with her parents, and two younger siblings (who are biological kids of her adoptive parents), and the book is set in the summer after she graduates high school, and is all set to go to an ivy league college.
So far it sounds like a typical coming of age story, right? Well, it’s not. Mostly because, ever since Natalie was a small girl, she had these ‘visitations’ in her bedroom at night from an old woman she decided to call – ‘Grandmother’, who told her Native American folktales, and urged her to internalize them.
The people around Natalie feel that she is suffering from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), which makes her hallucinate, but Natalie is convinced that Grandmother is very real.
Anyway, she goes to therapy, and stops seeing these ‘apparitions’ for many years, until one day when Grandmother appears again, and says – “Natalie – You’ve got three months to save him”. That’s it. She does not mention who is to be saved, from what, or even how. The only clue given is that Natalie will find her answers in the folktales that she has been told all her life.
Soon after this warning, Natalie starts seeing a boy around her town whom she has never seen before, and to quote the blurb – she also starts seeing the ‘wrong things’ – her front door is red instead of its usual green, there’s a preschool where the garden store should be. That is when she realizes that something is terribly wrong. The story then follows Natalie as she tries to fix this puzzle – piece by complicated piece.
This book starts very well – takes the readers right in the middle of the action. But after that, it is pretty slow paced, till about the halfway mark, where it becomes a page turner again.
Now it is possible that I found it slow paced, because this book is more character driven than plot driven, and I am currently leaning towards the latter. It is also possible the first half is 50 pages too long.
Also there are several themes that this book explores – friendship, first love, growing up and moving on, race perceptions, adoption, and also to a limited extent – feminism, abusive relationships, and cultural appropriation.
In a way, there is something for everyone, which enables a wide variety of people to connect with something or the other.
On the other hand, I felt that in the process of incorporating so many diverse themes, no one thing was given much importance, which makes it difficult for the reader to connect and/or be very invested in the story/characters.
I am only mentioning this because the blurb compares this book to the The Time Traveler’s Wife (which if you have read my review, and book discussion, you know I loved) , and that book had one focus – time travel, and it evoked much stronger emotions than this one.
But then again this is essentially a matter of taste. I know many people who love the presence of diverse themes in a book, and also many who enjoy exploring the different shades of single dominant theme as the story progresses.
Also, there is a lot to love in this book. For a debut novel – the language is good, and the foreshadowing/ pacing (especially in the second half) is handled really well, and there is no denying that it is a very imaginative plot.
The Tiny Problem
This one comes dangerously close to Insta-Love, but since the love story is not the only theme here (yes, in spite of the title), I guess it’s okay, but insta-love is just very off-putting for me. I mean the title hints at an epic love story, not at a teenage insta-love. But don’t get me wrong, I did love the romance between Natalie and Beau, I just did not get their initial connection (possibly due to the above mentioned insta-love).
The Big Problem
The Ending! I really can’t say anything about the ending without spoiling something or the other, so let me just say that this is one of those endings that makes you go – Aww..how wonderful! (in a non sarcastic way). And then you think about it. I mean, really think about it, and you are like – Wait, what happened here? How did they go from Point A to Point B? And how does that even solve anything?!
It is a well written, introspective story of amazing depth, but I personally did not like the ending (though I think that many might be okay with it); I just did not get how the current ending solves anything. If any of you got it, please enlighten me in the comments. Nonetheless, this was a good debut effort, and I will certainly be checking out the author’s future books.
Favorite Quotes/Lines from this book –
“I don’t love Beau yet, I don’t think. But being with him feels like a better version of being alone, and in that way, I think we are each other’s.”
“Sometimes you change your mind about a person. Or your feelings for them change, or they change, or, I don’t know, you just want to make a different decision. And that’s always okay. You don’t owe anyone anything.”
“No matter how hard it feels, you don’t need to be afraid to move on, and you don’t need to be afraid to stay either. There’s always more to see and feel.”
“For a moment we’re both silent, staring. I wonder if either of us really sees the other clearly anymore or if we are stuck looking at the frozen images of who we used to be.”
“Love is giving the world away, and being loved is having the whole world to give.”
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Have you guys read this book? If yes, I would love to hear your thoughts on the ending. If no – have you read any other time-travel / alternate reality / magical realism books? Please share your favorite ones with me; I am nursing a small addiction to this sub-genre. 😉
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