Thursday, April 14, 2011

Review: Back When You Were Easier to Love by Emily Wing Smith

Back When You Were Easier to Love by Emily Wing Smith is a book I went to with several assumptions already in place. I knew this was going to be a story of a girl who was desperate to get back her boyfriend who suddenly deserted her. I also knew this boyfriend was going to be a total asshat (totally right on that, by the way.) What I didn't know was would Joy come out of this stronger as a person, as her own person?

Synopsis: WHO ZAN IS: Blow-your-mind brilliant. Stop-your-heart gorgeous. Hold-your-breath clever. WHO ZAN WAS: Joy’s boyfriend. WHY JOY NEEDS HIM BACK: So she can breathe again. WHAT THAT MEANS: An elaborate road trip involving a SAAB 900, Sprite, and Barry Manilow. Oh, and Noah, Zan’s irritating-but-almost-charming ex-best friend. Original and insightful, quirky and crushing, Joy’s story is told in surprising and artfully shifting flashbacks between her life then and her life now.

Joy is simply sad and heartbroken without Zan in her life. Her only goal is to find a way to get him back. It is in some ways disturbing, parts sad, and parts pathetic. Everyone in Joy's life, her friends at least (cause her parents do not make much of an appearance in this book) know that Joy is better off without Zan, that he was a total tool, but does that help any? Of course not. Joy wants him back and she will get him. To do so, she needs to drive to Claremont, California, her hometown, and convince him to take her back, to make things right again. Her unwitting road trip companion is Zan's best friend, Noah Talbot, a "Soccer Lovin' Kid" (aka as really popular) and someone Joy has no time to put up with. Noah, and the other Soccer Lovin' Kids are the reason Zan left Haven. He did not want that perfect life, he wanted something else. Oh Joy, how simple you think this all is.

Thus, in Noah's classic Saab, they head from Utah to California in a quest that Noah knows will go badly. But he is truly just a plain old nice guy and heck, he was ditched by Zan too, he wants some answers. Will these two get them?

The power in this book lies oddly enough in Zan's power over Joy and how she perceives herself before, with Zan, and then after, without Zan, and then, after again after she realizes Zan is not the answer she was searching for. Joy does not come away from this  book wholly changed and bearing the knowledge that she does not need Zan. She still wants him, wants what she thought their relationship was anyway, but she finally realizes that maybe he was not good for her, that something was off balance in their "relationship" and Joy needs to take a hard look at herself too in that respect. She also comes to some realization that she has been an awful friend, somewhat of a snobby and awful person, and that is something she wants to rectify. How she gets those answers? Well I cannot spoil that for you of course but it does involve Barry Manilow.

Another aspect of this book I enjoyed is Joy's Mormon lifestyle. It wasn't slammed into my face in the story but it was a part of who Joy was, something she did not want to let go of, even though Zan openly mocked that. She was true to her church and you know, she enjoyed some of the more innocent things in life style. Sleepovers with her friends, baking cookies, sleepover games (yes, she is almost a high school senior), but I liked that simplistic part of her life. That is who Joy was, even as she professed to look down on those very same things.

Sadly, Joy was a character who changed for a boyfriend and that is something I typically cannot abide. But I went into this book KNOWING that so it wasn't exactly a huge surprise. The journey then was how she could perceive herself post-Zane. Would she become a stronger individual, more able to look at her own accomplishments and her positive qualities without putting them in some context of a guy? I was not totally convinced of this aspect but at the same time, I knew Joy was getting there. The ending was really perfect for the story, very much an open ending with I think some reader understanding that Joy still has a ways to go before she gets there, wherever "there" is, but she is trying and her quest for Zan has lent her strength she did not know she would originally get.

I love the cover of this book but that's mostly because I love the stool they are standing on. Those are library stools! This scene does not take place in this book at all so I have no idea where the cover inspiration came from.

This is not a perfect story but it fit Joy very well, and it gave me clues into who she is without the facade of having to have a boyfriend, having to have Zan. She was selfish, sometimes cruel though she didn't mean to be, didn't give people a chance, and well, this sounds like she could be the most unlikable character ever but in fact she is just a teen girl who found someone she thought was her match. It has happened to many a girl (including yours truly) so it's not like I can condemn her for hope. It's the journey after that left me curious as to the type of girl she would be and you know, she definitely is not half bad.

I haven't touched on Noah too much because while he is a solid guy, a nice guy, and some layers were revealed as the story went on, he isn't the star, though he isn't the perfect shell Joy thinks he is either. He just wasn't the catalyst for my emotional responses in this story so I don't have quite as much to say about him.

Back When You Were Easier to Love is a solid second story from Emily Wing Smith. Not perfect not amazing in a way some stories are for me, but real and atrocious in its reality at times. That can make for good reading and in this case, it did.


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