"Jackie Howard does not like surprises. Chaos is the enemy! The best way to get her successful, busy parents to notice her is to be perfect. The perfect look, the perfect grades--the perfect daughter. And then...
"Surprise #1: Jackie's family dies in a freak car accident.
"Surprise #2: Jackie has to move cross-country to live with the Walters--her new guardians.
"Surprise #3: The Walters have twelve sons. (Well, eleven, but Parker acts like a boy anyway.)
"Jackie is now surrounded by the enemy. Loud, dirty, annoying boys--who have no concept of personal space. Okay, several of the oldest guys are flat-out gorgeous. But still annoying. She's not stuck-up or boring--no matter what they say. But proving it is another matter. How can she fit in and move on when she needs to keep her parents' memory alive by living up to the promise of perfect?"
It took me a little while to get into Ali Novak's novel, but I did read it quickly quickly after I finally managed to dived in. I was curious to see how Jackie would acclimate, how she would learn to, if not exactly recover from, then come to terms with the loss of her family, and how she would accept--and be accepted--by the Walters'.
It's a sweet, little teenage romance with some decent characters and an enjoyable tone. Jackie works pretty well as a narrator, communicating her feelings precisely and accurately, revealing all the different facets of her story as her life goes in one direction and then another. She's very careful about revealing all the details of her experience, making a candid and intelligent narrator. I stayed hooked long enough to finally finish the book.
Although I liked Jackie for her candor and thoughtfulness, I didn't find her to be an incredibly endearing narrator. I think she conveyed herself very well, expressing her thoughts and feelings, but I had a hard time connecting to her on an emotional level. She's too driven, too focused, too unnaturally mature for a girl of sixteen. She doesn't quite feel genuine.
Don't get me wrong, I like her. She seems like a decent person, a fairly well-formed character; however, I just couldn't seem to connect with her. Perhaps, it was simply the fact that I am no longer sixteen-years-old, or perhaps, it was the life she lived previously, having lived a penthouse in Manhattan and received all the privileges that come with wealth (not that I'm criticizing her for it), but I simply didn't feel that familiar string of empathy tying us together.
Plus, I really, really hated Cole Walter.
I mean, sure, he could probably be a nice guy and Jackie obviously feels some kind of attraction for him--and he actually has his moments where he reveals how much he truly loves and cares about his family--but, for most of the book (read: almost all of the book), he's a grade-A womanizing jerk who thinks nothing of the consequences of his actions and plays with Jackie's emotions, alternating between romantic and vindictively cruel.
On more than one occasion, he purposefully attempts to hurt Jackie--not physically, but emotionally and socially and, even, academically, despite knowing how out of place she feels in Colorado and how much she cares about her good standing in school--because she refused to succumb to his whims and play the part of a swooning female. When she refuses to simply become another girlfriend, another broken heart, he tries to punish her for it.
Really, Cole? Really?
I just consistently found myself annoyed and furious with Cole. Granted, the other teenage boys are obnoxious--and Lee is just plain cruel on several occasions--but Cole, who Jackie finds herself unintentionally liking, seems to go out of his way to be unkind. He's friendly, amicable, and sweet one minute, and then five minutes later he's attempting to sabotage her or intentionally breaking her heart.
I don't like Cole, not the slightest bit. And I spent the entire novel alternately rooting for Jackie's other romantic prospects and hoping Cole would break his neck (or something equally damaging).
Why do teenage love stories always have to be so complicated?
Not to sound unkind, but adolescent relationships aren't that big of a deal. After high school, you might not even remember the person you dated for two months during sophomore year. I know heartbreak hurts at the time, but it's not catastrophic, especially when you're sixteen and you still have your whole life ahead of you.