Back When You Were Easier to Love
Emily Wing Smith
Reading level: Young Adult Hardcover: 304 pages Publisher: Dutton Juvenile (April 28, 2011) ISBN-10: 0525421998 Source: ARC from publisher in exchange for an honest review
What's worse than getting dumped? Not even knowing if you've been dumped. Joy got no goodbye, and certainly no explanation when Zan - the love of her life and the only good thing about stifling, backward Haven, Utah - unceremoniously and unexpectedly left for college a year early. Joy needs closure almost as much as she needs Zan, so she heads for California and Zan, riding shotgun beside Zan's former-best-friend Noah.
Like many things in life, my feelings for this book are a little complicated. I didn't love it or find myself sucked in by the amazing story, but I didn't hate it either. I kept trying to tell myself to put it down and pick another book, but I never did. I wanted to find out what happened when Joy found Zan. I knew what would probably happen when she found him in California, but something compelled me to prove my prediction. The simple fact that I kept reading the book even though my heart wasn't 100% percent in it must say something positive, right?
Let me go ahead and say why I wanted to put it down almost instantly. This book seemed too regionally specific. It felt geared toward one group of people in particular-- mainly those living within the Mormon community in Utah. Now, I am from deep in the Bible belt of the South. I cannot relate to this at all. Not even when I try. I like to think of myself as an open minded person, but I don't like little religious hints dropped throughout books that aren't meant to have religious undertones. Obviously, when every other page had a subtle hint to Mormon culture I wasn't thrilled. I thought I was reading a book about the loss of first love. I didn't know that so-called love pivoted around an entire culture/religion. I would probably not even care about this fact if the constant mentions were relevant, but the story would have been fine without 90% them.
On a positive note, the characters were okay. I couldn't relate to them (obviously), but I could sympathize with Joy. As my kids would say, she totally got played. Even worse, she doesn't realize it until she hears the love of her life (Zan) read a poem about her and his former town. (He calls the town and Joy "cardboard figures" and "fake.") It was harsh. I think it's worth noting that the real fake is Zan because he's the one that changes his identity when he gets to college. Unfortunately, Joy doesn't really make that connection. She sees that he's a jerk, but she doesn't want to admit the obvious. Instead, she wants to hold on to the positive things she remembers. I know that seems honorable, but it's irritating. Everyone else in the book could identify Zan as a creep and an idiot, why couldn't she?
Another major character worth noting is Noah. I couldn't actually not mention him since he's the chauffeur during this trip. I got the impression that he was another Adonis type boy (with the exception of having impeccable moral values). He was patient with his (at times) neurotic travel buddy. I guess you could describe Noah as the strong, silent type. I think that's the best fit for him. Joy thought she had "his type" all figured out (and she resented him because of her preconceived notions), but she realizes that she was wrong. Just like Zan wasn't what he first seemed, neither is Noah. There is depth to his character-- in essence. We don't see a whole lot of it in the book.
I thought about changing my rating to a 3, but I think I'm going to stick with my original score of a 2. It would be a solid 2.5 if I did half ratings. It honestly felt flat to me, but there was a lot of potential. The writing style is nice and flows very easily. It's witty at times, but also manages to be sentimental. I would probably read another book by this author in hopes that she works out some of the kinks I found in this book.