Mini!Reviews: The Disenchantments (Nina LaCour) & There You’ll Find Me (Jenny B. Jones)

I’ve made it my New Year’s Resolution to attempt to review every (or nearly every) book that I read in 2013, but sometimes I read so quickly and am so busy that I don’t have enough time to thoroughly write a detailed review. I’m trying to remedy this with a series of “mini” (or rather, smaller-than-usual-but-not-quite-“bite-sized”) book reviews. Though they won’t be as detailed or as long as my usual book reviews, they’ll still be long enough to convey my thoughts.

Today’s mini!reviews are of the novels The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour and There You’ll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones.

the disenchantments - nina lacour

Colby and Bev have a long-standing pact: graduate, hit the road with Bev’s band, and then spend the year wandering around Europe. But moments after the tour kicks off, Bev makes a shocking announcement: she’s abandoning their plans — and Colby — to start college in the fall.

But the show must go on and The Disenchantments weave through the Pacific Northwest, playing in small towns and dingy venues, while roadie- Colby struggles to deal with Bev’s already-growing distance and the most important question of all: what’s next?

The Disenchantments is a complex novel about a complicated, close friendship, set on the backdrop of a cross-country band-touring road trip. I initially picked it up because I can’t remember the last time I read a YA novel narrated by a male protagonist, written by a female author, and this was something I never knew I wanted until I started reading. The themes of art, music, growing up, and self-discovery make up this book. However, it is the two main characters that drive these themes home, and the reason why I really enjoyed this book.

Girls with platonic relationships with boys are constantly singled out for being “cruel”, for “leading them on”, and for “friendzoning” them. What I liked about this novel was that although Colby was in love with his best friend, Bev and had been for years — to the point where he had dreams that one day she would give him a chance — his hurt doesn’t stem from some ridiculous notions of being “friendzoned”. In fact, it’s hinted that Bev might even return his feelings, but she has so much going on in her life that she doesn’t want to pursue them and ruin probably her closest relationship. But even if she doesn’t, romance is not the point of this book, nor would it be healthy for Colby and Bev to be in a relationship — not with Colby’s misconceived, built-up perception of Bev, or with Bev’s personal insecurities and issues with her family (and herself).

Though I can’t say I agreed with some of Bev’s choices, especially the way she risked Colby’s future by not telling him of her plans or back-up plans throughout their senior year, I understand why it was difficult for her to even bring up the subject. (Beneath the surface, she truly cares about him, and after listening to him talk about this Europe trip for so long, how could she easily tell him that she wanted to go to this college instead, especially when — back then — it was a chance she was taking for herself and she had no idea if she’d even get in?) But Colby’s hurt at not being told, especially since he had rearranged his life around the plan to Europe they were no longer taking, and had not applied to colleges for the fall, is equally justified and real. (Misconceived perceptions or not, wouldn’t you be miffed that someone made a huge life-affecting plan with you, only to cancel it last-minute and leave you unsure of what the next year brings because you never thought to make a back-up plan, thinking you’d never need it?) The humanity in these characters, their fragile feelings and imperfections, truly resonated with me.

I also loved that the band featured in the Disenchantments was a girl band, and the focus was not on improving musical ability or talent or making great manufactured records that hide the fact that no one in the band can actually play their instruments. I’ve never seen this in a book about musicians, even amateur teenage musicians, and I found the idea behind their band’s existence and the reason for their tour compelling. They might be a group of beautiful girls, but their audience, after the initial shock of the not-so-great music, ended up enjoying their shows because they were mesmerized by their energy and passion. These feelings resonated with people, enough for them to be carried away by the band’s vivacity and enjoy the performance anyway. Could such a band sell a CD? Probably not. But on stage, their enthusiasm was electrifying and their audience was enchanted, watching them fall completely for the music.

The Disenchantments is a story about the intricacy of people and relationships. Fans of John Green’s work, especially Paper Towns, will enjoy this.

there you'll find me - jenny b. jones

Finley Sinclair is not your typical eighteen-year-old. She’s witty, tough, and driven. With an upcoming interview at the Manhattan music conservatory, Finley needs to compose her audition piece. But her creativity disappeared with the death of her older brother, Will. She decides to study abroad in Ireland so she can follow Will’s travel journal. It’s the place he felt closest to God, and she’s hopeful being there will help her make peace over losing him. So she agrees to an exchange program and boards the plane. Beckett Rush, teen heart-throb and Hollywood bad boy, is flying to Ireland to finish filming his latest vampire movie. On the flight, he meets Finley. She’s the one girl who seems immune to his charm. Undeterred, Beckett convinces her to be his assistant in exchange for his help as a tour guide.
Once in Ireland, Finley starts to break down. The loss of her brother and the pressure of school, her audition, and whatever it is that is happening between her and Beckett, leads her to a new and dangerous vice. When is God going to show up for her in this emerald paradise?

All I knew about There You’ll Find Me before I started reading was that it took place in Ireland. As a fan of books with foreign settings and a girl who very much wants to travel everywhere I possibly can one day, it was a book I had to pick up. What I was not expecting was a beautiful, poignant novel about grief, endurance, and personal faith.

There You’ll Find Me begins with Finley Sinclair, an eighteen-year-old hotel heiress (I laughed) on her way to Abbeyglen, Ireland to work on her audition piece for the New York Conservatory. She ends up sitting beside teen heart-throb Beckett Rush, an actor in a vampire franchise (I laughed again) who is more than his tabloid headlines, and though she doesn’t know it at the time, the chance encounter (the first of many) is the start of a hilarious, adorable love/hate friendship and a relationship that ends up strongly impacting her life.

What I loved about this novel was how it transcended the clichés and tropes Jenny B. Jones threw in it. Finley struggles with an eating disorder after her older brother Will was killed in a terrorist attack. She comes from a religious family, but because of her grief, she feels as if God has forsaken her. Her brother was a deeply religious person, and he felt God everywhere in Abbeyglen, so she wants to travel there and see the same sights he did, if not to reclaim the faith that had once been the cornerstone of her being, than to feel that connection with Will again, to fall in love with the country that took his breath away and made him feel something within his core. Throw in a cute movie star who is nothing like his public persona (and uses every opportunity to tease or flirt with Finley), an ambitious (and irritating) schoolgirl nemesis, and a seemingly angry, bitter elderly woman dying of cancer (with an enormous load of regrets and a huge secret), and you have an interesting romantic comedy in the making. Despite these commonly used and somewhat-unrealistic plots (how many hotel heiresses and vampire actors are you personally familiar with?), I found the heart of the story — Finley’s story — to be compelling, and it is the reason why reading this novel felt worthwhile. Finley’s search for faith and her failure at coping with loss are two things I felt anyone could relate to. As much as they may annoy the hell out of me sometimes, I can’t imagine losing either of my siblings. Her feelings, the fact that after all this time she was still finding it difficult to deal with the lack of her brother’s presence in her life, really resonated with me, and I found myself meandering Ireland’s gorgeous landscape beside her, in search of the faith I once held strongly but could no longer feel.

The one thing that made me hesitant to read There You’ll Find Me was how much religion played in the story. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this book was not preachy, and though biblical verses are scattered within the novel, I thought it was realistic the way Finley, someone who had once been very religious, grasped at them for strength (especially a verse she had selected to recite whenever she needed to remind herself that she, who had already endured so much, could conquer anything she faced head-on), and it made sense to me that in this Irish location, so many people would be as faithful as Finley’s family. I never once felt overwhelmed by the story’s spiritual nature, nor did I ever feel like the mentions of Christianity or God were unnecessary. This book is essentially about a girl who is only trying to figure things out in a world where someone close to her is no longer alive, and because religion was a huge part of who she and Will were, it plays a huge role in her quest to rediscover who she is now.

Though I adored the romance (I fell hard for Beckett Rush, and then I discovered his real name was Michael — if you know anything about my Nikita obsession, you’ll realize why I was a goner even before I’d realized — and fell harder) and Beckett and Finley’s banter (which ended up fueling this beautiful love/hate relationship), I felt that There You’ll Find Me was a little too ambitious, trying to cover a great expanse of serious subjects and cute scenes all at once. While at times, Jenny B. Jones was able to balance the heavy elements with the light, at other times, the novel felt a bit congested, and things like Beatrice, the caricature teenage villain who seemed to add nothing to the novel other than present another (kind of unnecessary) obstacle for Finley, and Beckett’s problems with his father and his acting career, get lost in the mix. I was also really confused why Mrs. Sweeney’s side story about her poor relationship with her sister, their complicated history, and the beautiful-but-soap-opera-ish thing she did for her took over story midway, but this ended up immensely influencing Finley’s own journey so strongly that I didn’t mind at all by the time I finished the book (even though it did make the novel seem a little unfocused).

The musical component, every scene in which Finley and Beckett traipse around Ireland enjoying the almost dreamlike scenery (especially for Finley, who has already “viewed” the place through Will’s eyes in his journal), and the way that Finley ultimately attains closure and rediscovers faith truly touched me. I’m a religious person (even if Finley and I don’t share the same religion), so I have no idea how a person who does not actively practice a religion or is agnostic or atheist would react to this book, but I personally thought Finley’s loss (of both her brother and her faith), search for closure and control within herself after that loss was something anyone could relate to, regardless of his or her beliefs. The emotions in There You’ll Find Me truly took my breath away (and made me cry into my Kindle) so much that I didn’t even mind the slightly-rushed resolution. If you’re a fan of emotional journeys in gorgeous locations, you should give this novel a try.

Aimee

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