Wednesday, April 10, 2013


by Amy Clipston

Published April 19, 2011 by Zondervan
GENRE: YA • Romance • Death • Life Issues • Contemporary • Christian

 TECHNICALLY 3.5, rounded to 4

Emily Curtis is used to dealing with her problems while under the hood of an old Chevy, but when her mom dies, Emily's world seems shaken beyond repair. Driven from home by hospital bills they can't pay, Emily and her dad move in with his wealthy sister, who intends to make her niece more feminine---in other words, just like Whitney, Emily's perfect cousin. But when Emily hears the engine of a 1970 Dodge Challenger, and sees the cute gearhead, Zander, next door, things seem to be looking up.

But even working alongside Zander can't completely fix the hole in Emily's life. Ever since her mom died, Emily hasn't been able to pray, and no one---not even Zander---seems to understand. But sometimes the help you need can come from the person you least expect.
I was really torn as to how to rate this book, but it ended up squeaking out a four. The book felt torn in two as well. One minute it was well developed fiction and then the next minute it was the typical "cookie cutter" Christian fiction. (I'll explain that in a minute.) There was dynamic and rich relationships.. and than bam.. stale and cliche dialogue. It had a fascinating tale of a girl struggling with drastic and life changing events but then those struggles ended up being treated one dimensionally. I felt like this:

I was completely pulled into the book, so the writing overall was very good. The downfall are the cliches. I was so hoping Clipston wouldn't fall victim to the "cookie cutter" Christian writer sand trap:

If you are unfamiliar with this concept, let me explain. The book is filled with Christian neighbors, church members and classmates. ALL of them are there to help you in ANY way they can. Riiiggggghhhhttt. As a Christian myself, I can FULLY attest to the fact that Christians are as fallible and messed up as everybody else. They are not all the same and they most certainly are not the "perfect-there-for-you-oh-come-and-give-me-a-hug" types. The idea that they will just envelope you and support so completely is a bit much. It's too idealized... especially the portrayal of the church staff. I ask writers to take off their rose colored glasses and see the reality of pastors and youth leader staff. 

One the other hand, the spiritual and emotional struggles Emily deals with are completely relatable. Her character is incredibly engaging, personal and tactile. Emily's loner aspect was another realistic portrayal. Her mom's illness and death, moving, being forced into a life of personal poverty, being criticized and rejected by family members are all things the masses can relate to. The storyline is rock solid.

I love the fact that she is into cars. Being a motorhead is extremely unique and refreshing in the fiction world. It's a YA version of Mercy Thompson.. but without the whole shape shifter/werewolves thing.

Most of the characters were interesting, but I felt some were undercooked. This book could have shone like a supernova if Clipston had just enriched the characters and lengthened the book. It was an "almost there" kind of feeling... like when you're eating a large chocolate cake but it just needed some ganache and be more moist. You might say it is like after running a 5k race, your personal best time is within your grasp and then you hit "the wall"... collapsing along the side of the road to hurl your insides just before the finish line. The aunt, grandmother, Chelsea and Zander could have launched me into orbit if they are just been sharpened and given more depth.

Sometimes Christian writers push too hard. They force the spiritual aspect in scenes that can't support it. Other times, they speak what I like to call "Christanese". An example: most of the secular world has no idea what "being saved" or "lost" mean. The writers need to add a translator filter to their writing to appeal... and be understood... by the mass audience.

The ending felt extremely abrupt. I was left tumbling off the question cliff. What's going to happen to...? What happens with this relationship? Does this happen? Too many loose ends does not a good ending make. (Channeling Yoda.) Since there was no mention anywhere of a sequel... I went a bit out of my mind. I couldn't believe she would end it with so much left wide open.


One thing I really related to was how she and Zander were trying to fit God into this neat little box of their own making. Christianity is not a 1,2,3 "paint-by-number" experience and they seem to understand that in the end. Her feeling abandoned and alone struck my heart deeply. Emily had a couple scenes toward the end that had me sobbing.

And as for Zander... yum! I just wish we had more from him. Though I did want to hit him over the head in one spot in the book. Men... so stubborn. Sigh.

I think this is a book you will enjoy, especially if you are into contemporary fiction.  So go ahead and give it a try!