And here we have yet another NetGalley read, which I managed to slip in before my Kindle, Bronwyn, died on me and forced me back to my paperback roots for a couple of days while I waited for its replacement (Fearghall) to arrive. And yes, I did name both my Kindles after my own characters. SO BITE ME.
(A note for those who don’t know me or haven’t been following my other blog long enough to have heard about this, I name pretty much every object I own, especially technology. Hence a laptop called JARVIS, a tablet called Pepper, a phone called Cu Chulainn, a camera called War and a video camera called Sauron. I’m a nerd.)
As you may well have noticed by now, I don’t read a whole lot of contemporary fiction, but what drew me to this book (aside from the exciting cover) was one of the same things that drew me to Simon vs the Homo-Sapiens Agenda — it features a relationship that develops online. But Leila Sales handled it very differently, so the story that emerges is entirely different.
You see, our protagonist Arden has been reading the blog of a boy called Peter, to the point where she feels like she knows him. She reads his blog when she’s hanging around waiting for her thespian boyfriend to finish trying on hats. She reads it while at her little brother’s basketball game. And one day, when things are going badly for her and for Peter, she takes off with her best friend and they drive to New York to find him.
It’s hard for me to give this book an entirely objective review because alas, the e-galley I read had huge formatting issues. Don’t worry, I let the publishers know, but it made it a bit hard to get into the story at first. However: the persistence was absolutely worth it.
I don’t read a lot of contemporary novels, especially not American ones, because they don’t even come close to matching my school experience. I’m British, so my school never functioned like the ones in those books, and I’m also neither fundamentally uncool nor particularly cool, which meant I don’t fit the ‘popular girl’ or the ‘nerdy outcast’ stereotype. My school didn’t even really have those groups — it was a remarkably un-cliquey place. Plus, I never had a lot of the high school experiences that happen in books. Parties and drinking and boyfriends and shopping, etc. etc.
Maybe it’s because I’m an introverted queer booknerd who doesn’t drink, but I don’t feel like I’m contemporary YA protagonist material.
Or at least, I didn’t until now. You see, Arden’s not a genius who gets 100% in everything, nor is she the star of the show. She doesn’t have a lot of hobbies and talents, and she’s far happier as stage crew than cast when she’s involved in school theatre. At the same time, she doesn’t get in trouble or whatever. She’s normal.
Except for the driving to New York part. I’ve never done that. I can’t even drive.
And Arden has been reading the blog of a stranger on the internet to the point where she feels like she knows him. If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because like me, you spend way too much of your time online. I met some of my best friends on the internet. Some of them I eventually met; others have stayed online-only. But those I have to met, it’s definitely the case that meeting them has changed something about our friendship. Usually for the better, I’d like to add.
As I’m sure you guessed, Arden finds that the version of his life Peter’s been posting online isn’t objectively truthful, and she has to face up to the reality: that even when people are seemingly honest, their online persona can never fully represent them. It’s more realistic than the stories where the other person turns out to be a sixty-year-old man or whatever; it’s less about lying, and more that people create their own version of their lives, and that’s all we see of them when we read it from a distance.
So, a few other things I liked that I don’t have the energy to explore in depth (I’m writing this on 22.08.15, when it is freakishly hot, so yeah):
- Arden’s best friend, Lindsey. Not only because Lindsey was cool in her own way. She’s gay, and while that’s addressed, it’s not the point of the story. She’s also a lot more of a screw-up than Arden is, and Arden takes it upon herself to bail her out over and over again. This book emphasised the fact that their friendship is huge and all-encompassing and incredibly important. I have a lot of feelings about friendship, okay?
- The way we see Peter’s side of the story develop through blog posts but also through Arden’s imagination as she tries to figure it all out. Although I have to say I missed a few bits where the copy I was reading screwed up formatting-wise: the fact that I was at times confused is in no way the author’s fault and I’m sure this’ll be fixed before publication.
- The humour, because there was a fair amount of it.
- The message. Because ultimately, this book is pretty profound, and its message on the nature of love and what it means is something that I found moving. As well as the idea I already touched upon — that the version of themselves people present isn’t always the whole truth — the ending offers a number of observations about life. About living life for yourself, while also giving other people the love they need. It’s worth reading the book just for those. Promise.
“I used to think that loving somebody meant sacrificing anything for them. I thought it meant writing them a blank cheque. I thought it meant that you would die without each other. But it turns out that death and a broken heart are not the same.
These days, I think that love is not so dramatic as all that. Maybe loving somebody means simply they bring out the best in you, and you bring out the best in them – so that together, you are always the best possible versions of yourselves.”
I surprised myself by how much I enjoyed this, given that I’m not much of a contemporary reader. I think it’s because there was emphasis on love of all kinds (e.g. friendship) and not merely romance, which I’m not a big fan of (you’d noticed that, right?).
I might check out Leila Sales’ other book, which I shelved a dozen times while working in the school library in July, since I liked the writing style.
Tonight The Streets Are Ours is due to be released on September 18th, 2015, and thus the above review refers to the e-galley edition and not the final one, which you already know because this disclaimer is on, like, every review I write.