Monday, April 7, 2014

ARC Review: Open Road Summer by Emery Lord


Title: Open Road Summer

Author: Emery Lord

Rating: 4 Stars

Release Date: April 15th, 2014

Admittedly, I'm a little confused by the hype surrounding Open Road Summer. Lord's debut is striking, distinctly flavorful in its focus on strong female friendships, diversity, and prickly heroines. Nevertheless, the glowing five-star reviews around the blogosphere left me with an intangible wanting when it came to the end of this novel. Open Road Summer is a debut I wouldn't hesitate to thrust upon readers, particularly those looking to bridge the gap between YA and NA, but a perfect novel it is not.

Although most readers are likely drawn in by the synopsis of Open Road Summer, - a season spent on the road with a rock star best friend - I failed to be impressed. Frankly speaking, I'm not one for stories about fame. Yet, the emphasis on bold protagonists with enviable friendships compelled me to pick up my ARC and forced me to keep flipping the pages, even when my eyes ached late into the night. Reagan and Dee have been best friends for years; a constant in each others lives even when the world has changed around them. Now, at seventeen, Dee is a blooming musician, complete with a throng of besotted fans. On her tour this time, however, is Reagan, the friend Dee desperately needs after breaking up with her boyfriend, Jimmy. Dee isn't the only one who needs friendship, though. After finding her ex-boyfriend cheating on her and splitting off from him rather disastrously, Reagan is turning over a new leaf. Determined to give up smoking, drinking, and partying, Reagan needs Dee's presence to keep her grounded and focus. And this summer, it's going to be about them: Dee and Reagan. Infinity.

But, as expected, their plans don't quite pan out. When nasty rumors instigate a false nude scandal concerning Dee and her ex-boyfriend, Jimmy, the record label is forced to bring Matt Finch on tour. Matt, whose fame died out when his band disbanded a few years ago, is back with a solo album and as a close friend of Dee, has agreed to act as Dee's fake boyfriend to keep the media entertained and the rumor mill surrounding Jimmy at bay. For Reagan, however, Matt's inclusion into their duo is an unwelcome arrival. No matter how desperately she tries to deny it, there is something about Matt that pushes at her buttons. Unlike most guys, Matt genuinely wants to know the Real Reagan, the one hiding behind the thick barriers and, for the first time, Reagan might actually want to drop those walls after all. Only, is it really safe for her to trust Matt? Or is she simply setting herself up for heartbreak all over again?

What makes Lord's debut a note-worthy novel, in my opinion at any rate, is Reagan's personality. Unlike Dee, Reagan isn't the goody-two-shoes girl-next-door. In fact, she's the girl whose name is constantly being spoken in hushed voices around the school. Its her name you're most likely to see scratched crudely into bathroom stalls. And, what's more, her police record does little to dispel her bad-girl image. Thus, the close friendship between Reagan and Dee comes as an unexpected surprise. Yet, despite their different personalities, there is no denying the strength of the bond these two girls share. While it is easy, at first, to keep them in their stereotypical molds, Lord quickly dispels this, showing us the caring sides to Reagan's personality alongside the uglier aspects of Dee's. What I love about their characterization is the fact that is reads as truly teenage. Dee is quick to react tearfully to news of rumors while Reagan is eager to lash out in anger at those trying to hurt her best friend. And yet, despite the readiness of their emotional responses, neither Dee nor Reagan comes across as irritating, bitchy, or slutty - terms all-too-often associated with YA protagonists. If anything, both these girls come alive as realistic teens, uncertain about their futures, worried about their pasts, and trying desperately to live in the present. With both their good and bad sides expressed dutifully, the gray coloring that makes up the true personalities of these girls, beyond their famous and infamous statuses, is what shines through.

Although Open Road Summer is, technically, about a summer road trip, the novel lacked the needed feel of spontaneity. Dee's tour is meticulously planned and, as a result, the excursions into the world, outside of mandatory concerts, didn't do much for the story. Quite simply put, the setting of this novel never brought this story to life. Without the vivid characters and summer-esque feel to their languid interactions, you'd be hard-pressed to appreciate the scenery as these girls travel across the United States by bus. Nevertheless, despite that, the strong relationships throughout this story prevail. Aside from Reagan and Dee's friendship, minor bonds from Reagan's rocky relationship with her father - her only true parent after her mother ran away from home many years ago - to Dee's tight relationship with her parents are never brushed aside. I appreciated the fact that Lord included the parental units as part of her novel, if only because they are a realistic element in the day-to-day lives of teens, even celebrity ones. Moreover, we can clearly see how nurture has molded Reagan and Dee into different people, though their faults and rough patches only serve to make their friendship stronger.

Nevertheless, the aspect of Open Road Summer which truly opened up my heart and make me feel, swooning and sighing with glory, was the romance. At first, Matt Finch seems remarkably unoriginal - the sweet, boy-next-door type who simply wants to help out a good friend. But just as he kept unexpectedly surprising Reagan with his candor and infectious personality, he unexpectedly wormed his way into my heart as well. Although both Matt and Reagan are physically attracted to one another, their main draw to each other comes from their personalities. Matt likes the Reagan who hides behind a prickly exterior of disdain. While Reagan's cynicism comes with her true self as well, Matt appreciates both the good and bad sides to her, from her loyalty towards Dee to her unwillingness to open up to others. Similarly, Reagan cannot help but fall for Matt - the real Matt whose true emotions take over his expressions. Not the Celebrity Matt whose smiles are perfectly sculpted for the camera, but the one whose laughter is just a little bit crooked. While there are a plethora of hurdles in their way, most notably the fact that Matt is meant to be Dee's fake boyfriend for the summer, their romance plays out slowly. As the sexual tension, banter, and understanding between them builds, it is impossible to feel as if their love story is simply a summer fling: it's so much more.

Ultimately, Open Road Summer was a breath of fresh air. It's a quick read, practically impossible to set down once its momentum gets going. While it isn't the type of story that is likely to stick with me for long, I do not doubt that readers will connect with both Reagan and Dee, not to mention their respective love stories. Moreover, despite the minor flaws within this narrative - the underdevelopment of Reagan's step-mother, the lack of true setting in a road trip novel, etc. - Lord's debut is promising for readers for YA/NA. I, for one, will be checking out her future books without even a sliver of hesitation.

22 comments:

  1. I've never read a strong friendship YA novel. I've been putting off this book despite high rating just because, the cover is deceptive making me think of cheesy novel.Dee and Reagan with different personalities sounds interesting. I'm curious to see what it's like to travel by bus across United States. You're making me read this book right away. Lovely review, dear (:

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  2. I always hate the feeling when EVERYONE around me loves a book but I like it but can't see that perfect perfection

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  3. I haven't read the glowing reviews, though I've heard some buzz. Your review sounds a lot more like I expected the book to be -- well-written with defined teen characters rather than five-star fabulosity. Regan definitely sounds like an interesting character!

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  4. I'm so glad you reviewed this. I had little interest in it before all the glowing praise started to flow, and while I'm still now excited about picking it up, I feel I have a much better sense of what to expect. I too dislike stories about fame, particularly when it involves musicians and touring, even though I am a music fan. But I think the romance here will really win me over, and I hope Reagan's character will work well for me too. I'm glad this was a good quick read for you, Keertana. Fantastic review as always!

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  5. Wonderful review Keertana, I love road trip books but it sounds like the characters were the focus here. I love how genuine they sound.

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  6. So glad you enjoyed this one overall Keertana! I really loved it as well, and the friendship between Reagan and Dee was the highlight for me. Like you said, they felt real and true to their ages, and didn't fit into any easily labeled boxes like is so often the case. I will definitely be checking out more of her books without hesitation too:)

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  7. Great review, Keertana! I don't think this book is really for me, but I might try it out eventually. While I love that Open Road Summer mainly focuses on friendship, I was hoping that for once, a YA author wouldn't feel the need to include a romance and would just focus on the friendship alone. But I know I'm one of the minority that holds that opinion. haha And I do love romance when it's well-done, and it sounds like it is in Open Road Summer! :D

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  8. Sounds like one I need to pick up. I would be attracted to the creativity/music aspect, but like you, not so much about the fame part. I usually avoid books like that. I do like the sound of the characters and despite the flaws sounds like something I would enjoy.

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  9. I always love reading your reviews! They are so detailed and yet I never feel like you've given anything away. I just don't know how you do it. I want to read this one very much! I read a review today already that also liked it. I am totally convinced by your review. Looking forward to the romance!! Really great review!

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  10. I never knew that this book was so hyped up but that is good to hear because it has a gorgeous cover! I love the way you describe the romance, you've totally got me sold :)

    Lovely review, Keertana! <33

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  11. I am so happy to see that you enjoyed this book Keertana. I do my reads that deal with musicians and music, but for some reason I'd assumed that this book wouldn't be for me, but as more praising reviews started coming through, I think I've been more convinced to give this book a go. Also I like my characters with depth! Fab review!

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  12. it sounds so interesting, you make me want to read it! :) Love the way you write. It's very straightforward and unique. Thanks for reviewing the book. I'm going to add this in my reading list!

    by the way, I just started a book blog around last week and it'd be nice if you want to check it out? We may also follow each other if you want. I'd be happy to :) Looking for more of your reviews!

    xx Jillian (jilliansbooks.blogspot.com)

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  13. I've been reading glowing reviews of this, and the fame aspect is something that was also kind of turn off for me, but I'm glad to hear you still found it a worthwhile read, even if it didn't blow your mind 5 stars style. I feel like I have more realistic expectations now. And now I'm super excited to meet Reagan and Matt, fame be damned. :-) Lovely review!

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  14. I like the sound of this one, Keertana! I'm happy to hear that for once in a YA novel the best friends don't seem to steal their boyfriends (or try to) from each other. These two sound like they remain friends through thick and thin and I'd rather read a relationship like that. I'm excited to hear the romance worked for you, too! Wonderful review. :)

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  15. I saw all 5 stars reviews too and I have really expectations. Hype is the worst thing for me when I read books, they never get to be as good as everyone keeps saying.
    I am glad that in the end you did enjoy reading Open Road Summer, it gives me hope that I might like it too.
    Great review, as always!:D

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  16. ha! I found the opposite. I saw a bunch of negative reviews of this one, funny. Humm at least it's a quick read.

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  17. I love that you said it's like a breath of fresh air because I feel like I need that right now in my reading choices! SWOONAGE! You can't go wrong with well-done romance that makes you breathless. Love the review!

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  18. yay!! so glad you liked this one! I loved Reagan too and her friendship w Dee! can't wait for more Emery Lord.

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  19. That's too bad that this story hasn't left you with as much of a lasting impression as you'd hoped, Keertana, but it still does sound like a worthwhile read overall. I like the sound of Reagan and Dee's characterizations, as well as their friendship. It's too bad that romance also seems to feature prominently in this story, but what can you do?
    I'm sure I'll give this one a try, but with more realistic expectations than the many, glowing reviews have led me to believe.

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  20. That's too bad that this story hasn't left you with as much of a lasting impression as you'd hoped, Keertana, but it still does sound like a worthwhile read overall. I like the sound of Reagan and Dee's characterizations, as well as their friendship. It's too bad that romance also seems to feature prominently in this story, but what can you do?
    I'm sure I'll give this one a try, but with more realistic expectations than the many, glowing reviews have led me to believe.

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  21. I have missed quite a lot of your reviews lately so I was trying to catch up when my eye fell on this one. I have been putting this book off my reading list because of the cover. It seemed very cliched like other contemporary books I've been too scared to get into even though they are so fast-paced and easy to read.

    Your review is fantastic. It covers everything. I am planning to put this list on my TBR because I think your description about the characters is very interesting and I want to experience them for myself. To me, characters are one of the most important aspect of a book closely followed by plot and setting. I love grey characters because that just makes them so real.

    Great review! Keep writing!

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