Swear On This Life by Renee Carlino is a New Adult novel. Now, I don't have the best history with New Adult. I'll be blunt: the NA I've tried thus far has made me want to scoop my eyeballs out with a spoon. But...Carlino is speaking at a local event in April, and I'm moderating her panel, so I "sucked it up" and realized that I had to try it because "homework reading."
I was riveted.
Emiline is an adjunct writing instructor at UC San Diego and has been dating her ex-jock boyfriend, Trevor, for 7 years. Their relationship has grown distant, although they're both going through the motions. Emi's been struggling with her own writing, trying to find her voice, and dismissing suggestions from her roommate and her supervising professor to delve into her past. Emi would just as soon forget her traumatic childhood, growing up poor white trash in rural Ohio. It's a past Emiline has failed to "deal with," so when her roommate gives her an amazing new novel by J. Colby, the literary wunderkind of the moment, Emi is in for a rude shock. The subject of his novel, All the Roads Between, is so obviously her. Which means "J. Colby" is none other than her childhood best friend and first love, Jase; a boy she hasn't seen or heard from in over a decade. And now the a-hole has co-opted her life to write a book and he's a big blooming bloody success. Emi is...not happy.
What we have here is a book within a book. The story goes back and forth between Emi's present day and her past, as told through the fictionalized account of All the Roads Between. As she gets deeper into the book, her current relationships come to a head, Jase comes barreling back into her life, and the past will no longer stayed buried. Which means Emi is going to have to have her "come to Jesus" moment and finally deal with it all.
This is a perfect example of a book where I can see all the faults, acknowledge all the faults, and still not care. I've seen negative reviews for this, and believe me - I get it. It's not a perfect book and as a romance I'm not sure it entirely works. It falls into the common New Adult Angst-o-Rama-Jama Trap (I'm beginning to feel like the White Trash "thing" is to NA as Dukes are to light historicals....) and none of these characters are terribly "likeable." When Emi and Trevor aren't fighting they're essentially practicing emotional avoidance. When Jase finally arrives on the scene (we're talking halfway through the book) he comes off like a smooth-talking bro. I seriously half expected him to pat Emi on the head and condescendingly tell her he knows what's best (which he kind of does since it comes out he "wrote the book for her." Ugh - seriously, dude?).
The ending also has moments that feel a little out of left field - namely how the author resolves the Trevor relationship. I wouldn't call this a love triangle. It's fairly obvious to any reader with a clue that the Trevor relationship is doomed from the outset. And while, in theory, how the author resolves this relationship could work, I felt like there wasn't enough page time devoted to it to flesh it out.
And yet? Detailing all these quibbles, these things that shouldn't work, it somehow all did for me. It worked for me in the way that women's fiction can often work for me, and I can see it working for readers who think they don't like romance, but actually they do (they just don't know it yet). Frankly it's the sort of book that publishers love to market as "Not Your Mother's Romance" - which normally cheeses me off no end, but Lord help me....
I. Got. Sucked. In.
I loved the angst. I loved the storytelling. And while it frustrated that Jase basically forces Emi's hand to start her journey towards "healing" - hey, it's still the heroine's journey. Which has always been the biggest draw for me in the genre. Is Emi always a nice person? No. Does Emi sometimes sulk and fall into her "woe is me" routine? Sure. But we buy that crap from heroes, so it was refreshing to see it from a young heroine's perspective.
My final thoughts on this book are a jumbled mess. There are faults here, but I was so engrossed in the story that I didn't really care. It's been so long since I fell so hard into a book to the point where I didn't want to put it down until I finished the final sentence, and that's what this story did for me. I'll read Carlino again in a heartbeat.
Final Grade = B+