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.