Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Review: The Distance Between Us by Kasie West
Title: The Distance Between Us
Author: Kasie West
Rating: 2 Stars
I've been itching to try a Kasie West novel ever since her debut - and successive sophomore novel - took the blogging world by surprise. I have a wide variety of friends in the blogosphere, all with different tastes, but if there's one thing they agreed upon, it was that this book was good.
Um, not so much for me.
I really enjoyed West's prose, so I have a feeling I'll be back for more, and this novel just flew by so quickly and was practically impossible to let go of, but ultimately I wasn't charmed. It tackles on a little too much, a little too poorly, and although I struggled with aspects of the story, the parts I really loved were more-or-less pushed under the carpet and dealt with in a very shot-gun conclusion that wrapped things up a little too neatly for my tastes. Ultimately, however, my main issue is that this story is oozing with potential - potential that is, sadly, never acted upon.
The Distance Between Us tackles a rather generic love story - rich boy meets poor girl - but it has a lot of promising elements too. For one, Caymen (the poor girl in question) owns a doll shop with her single-mother who she maintains a strong relationship with. For another, the reason Caymen and Xander (the rich boy and heir of an expensive hotel business) are drawn together is not because of "chemistry", but because they are both struggling to find their place in the world. While Caymen is initially wary of Xander's extended hand of friendship, primarily because her father is a wealthy lawyer who abandoned her mother and never attempted to contact her, the premises of their relationship seemed promising.
Well, talk about a wake-up call.
For me, the most disappointing aspect of this novel was the fact that Caymen and Xander's attempts to help each other find their perfect career was merely a plot device to draw them together. I've found that the age of seventeen is on the cusp of Young Adult and New Adult; it tempts authors to push that boundary and tackle the more complicated questions of a looming future, but also draws them back to safety of a well-worn love story. And, sadly, West took the easy route out. Although I appreciated the fact that Xander used his wealth to expose Caymen to options she wouldn't have considered with her poor background, the opposite did not hold true and Xander's introduction into a life of "poorly" occupations was lacking in depth. Moreover, by the end of the novel this entire plot thread was thrown out of the window in favor of - you guessed it - needless drama and a convenient conclusion.
Even past the immediate plot of this story, the characters failed to truly jump out at me. While Caymen constantly describes her relationship with her mother as being strong and supportive, it isn't ever shown throughout the narration. Additionally, while Caymen and Xander push out of their stereotypes of "poor" and "rich", their friends remain black-and-white, eating at gas stations or making lewd comments. Furthermore, I cannot claim to have been enamored by Caymen - or her narration, for that matter. Although I appreciated her sarcastic tone, the constant comparisons between her lifestyle and that of Xander's grew tiresome and the issue as a whole is, as I've mentioned previously, handled a little too neatly. Moreover, Xander lacks any real personality beyond being kind. I often have trouble connected with nice romantic leads, merely because nice does not constitute the entirety of a person. Okay, Xander is nice and caring...what else? What makes him tick? What skeletons are in his closet? Give me something!
And, on the subject of romance, West throws in another love interest in this novel - one who is at the same economic level as Caymen - and though he is far more interesting and shares many more passions than Xander does, his character is purposefully left under-developed so as to keep the spotlight on Caymen and Xander. It's such an unnecessary plot device that does nothing for the romance or for the message of this novel in terms of stereotypes. In fact, all it succeeded in doing was grate on me. West not only has a huge fan base, but she has devoted readers who have extolled this novel far more than it deserves, in my opinion, and I simply did not expect these sorts of plot tropes from such a well-known story.
I am sure that The Distance Between Us will continue to win over fans, but much like My Life Next Door, this is one contemporary that just has not worked for me. While I can at least claim that the latter had many solid scenes and used its characters (and their economic statuses) to its advantage, this novel ends the novel very quickly, failing to go back and address many of the self-discovery issues that Caymen and Xander face and solving the monetary problems between them a little too easily as well. I would still recommend this book for fans of contemporary romance and I will, definitely, be reading West's next romance (I am a sucker for best-friend romances!), but I need my story lines to be a tad bit more realistic and contain a much needed dose of substance. We'll see if West moves in that direction...or not.