Wow, oh wow! I had to sit with this one a moment before I could talk about it. I had all the feels from 🥰🤗😍 to 😲😡😖. Even I finished the book, I couldn’t get Jolene and Adam out of my head. I wanted to continue with them and see where life took them. 💘
Adam Moynihan’s life used to be awesome. Straight As, close friends and a home life so perfect that it could have been a TV show straight out of the 50s. Then his oldest brother died. Now his fun-loving mom cries constantly, he and his remaining brother can’t talk without fighting, and the father he always admired proved himself a coward by moving out when they needed him most.
Jolene Timber’s life is nothing like the movies she loves—not the happy ones anyway. As an aspiring director, she should know, because she’s been reimagining her life as a film ever since she was a kid. With her divorced parents at each other’s throats and using her as a pawn, no amount of mental re-editing will give her the love she’s starving for.
Forced to spend every other weekend in the same apartment building, the boy who thinks forgiveness makes him weak and the girl who thinks love is for fools begin an unlikely friendship. The weekends he dreaded and she endured soon become the best part of their lives. But when one’s life begins to mend while the other’s spirals out of control, they realize that falling in love while surrounded by its demise means nothing is ever guaranteed.
I picked this one up from the library on a whim and I’m so glad that I did! As a child of divorced parents, I related to being bounced back and forth every other week. Luckily, my parents weren’t as bad as Jolene’s but they definitely weren’t like Adam’s either. But the feel of living 2 different lives; I understood that. I’ve heard representation is just a buzz word but it really does matter. I have only seen books where one parent had custody and the child almost never saw the other parent. Those kids had a sense of stability and continuity even as they missed their other parent. I didn’t completely have that so even though those stories dealt with divorce, it wasn’t similar to MY story. But this one endeared itself to me because it was so familiar.
In addition to divorce, this book delved into some pretty dark themes which I’ll discuss in a moment. I have to give trigger warnings for physical and emotional abuse as well as adultery, depression, mental illness, loss of a loved one, and sexual assault. Yes, there is a wholesome and sweet love story that blooms between Adam and Jolene (Adam has absolutely earned himself a spot on the best book boyfriend list) but their lives are far from ideal. The juxtaposition of these two conflicting themes provided the vehicle for my emotional roller coaster. And it was definitely a roller coaster!
Adam is the youngest in a family that lost their oldest child. Adam’s mom develops some unhealthy coping strategies, even to the point of outright denying the loss, and it drives a wedge between her and Adam’s dad. Unable to handle it anymore, Adam’s dad moves out of the family farmhouse in the country and into a rundown apartment near the city. Adam, still trying to process his own grief, sees his Dad leaving as cowardice and desertion when the family needs him most. He has no desire to visit when it’s his Dad’s weekend. This petulant and inflexible attitude causes conflict between Adam and his brother, who is just trying to make the best out of a bad situation. As far as Adam is concerned, the visits are something to be endured until he can go back to protecting his Mom from, well, everything.
Jolene has been dealing with the divorced parents game for a while when she meets Adam. Highly jaded and exceptionally mistrusting, she thinks Adam is cute albeit utterly naive. Her parents separated when her Dad cheated on her Mom. Now, pretty much an absentee father, he has his mistress keep an eye on Jolene when she’s at the apartment. A woman barely older than Jolene, there is zero respect between the two. As if the fact that her Dad is never around wasn’t hurtful enough, Jolene’s Mom only wants her so she can stick it to Jolene’s father. Early on, it was intimated that her Mom had tried to poison her so she couldn’t go to her Dad’s for the weekend. She even overheard an argument where her father said the only reason they had Jolene was because he thought it would give her Mom something to do while he traveled for work. Not because they wanted a child together. I felt so bad for Jolene. It seemed liked no one wanted her. Everyone that was supposed to love and care for her had either used her, deserted her, or was taken away from her out of spite. It was no wonder she lashed out and kept people at arm’s length. True affection was an alien concept for her.
Adam: Wouldn’t you drive to me?
Jolene: This is the first time I thought about it.
Adam: It’s not a trick question. If something happened and we didn’t have these weekends, would you still want to see me?
Adam: Good, ’cause I’d want to see you.
Adam: Still there?
Jolene: I don’t know what to do when you talk like that.
When Adam came into her life, Jolene wasn’t quite sure what to make of him. He was friendly, if not a little brusque, and honest. Something that she hadn’t had in a very long time. Their friendship started as a way to help Adam cheer up his Mom but turned into something real. They could talk to each other in ways that they couldn’t with their other friends and family. The small respites of happiness they carved out for themselves began to be what they looked forward to most. Suddenly, they couldn’t wait for the weekends they were together. Adam learned that Jolene really wanted to be a movie director and she was astounded to learn that he was a closet softy – complete with watching Anne of Green Gables with his mom. Their time together was what I lived for in this book. And the future Adam saw for them? 💞
But their oasis was still fraught with the ugliness of the outside world. Jolene’s best friend was constantly getting pulled into an abusive relationship despite everyone telling her it was unhealthy. Why is it so much easier to see the warning signs from the outside? It made me sick to my stomach to read these passages because I’ve seen the exact same thing happen to a friend of mine. Only it was his girlfriend (then wife) and I think it ultimately played a part in his current circumstances.
“I’m trying to be your friend,” I told her. “I’ve watched this guy turn you into a meek, paranoid… thing, constantly apologizing for the slightest offense he imagines, forcing you away from your friends and making you feel guilty for every second that you’re not thanking him for putting up with you.”
I don’t want to give too much away but there’s one last thing I want to commend Ms. Johnson on handling with aplomb – sexual assault. Let me be clear, it wasn’t rape but it had the makings of one. The situation is a situation that I could see almost any female, woman or girl, getting herself into if she’s not careful. And how Jolene felt afterwards? Disappointing yet typical. I can’t speak for everyone but in my small world, women have been conditioned to think everything is our fault. We asked for it. We should’ve done “x” differently. Maybe we lead them on… All highly toxic thoughts that we’ve been programmed to think. We’ve been taught to explain away men’s bad behavior and internalize it as our guilt.
Sometimes, when I thought about it, I got the wrong idea. Even though Guy hadn’t done anything besides feed me and listen to me. He hadn’t tried to touch me or anything. The whole thing was innocent. And I needed his help if I was going to submit my application for the film program. Still, it nagged at me that I had to mentally tell myself that it was okay for us to hang out.
How many times have we second guessed ourselves as women? Second guessed a situation? How many times have we thought our way out of red flags? Explained away the feeling as a misinterpretation. I’ve done it. I’ve seen other strong women that I admire do the same. It’s a tough conditioned habit to break. But we need to do it. We need to be better. We need to back each other up as women. We need to trust ourselves and our gut. I’m so glad that we live in a time where young women are waking up to this kind of thing. I applaud those that have said, “this isn’t right,” and I applaud Ms. Johnson for so eloquently putting it in black and white.
Adam: I couldn’t stand that he hurt you. I wanted to hurt him. And I needed him to know that you weren’t alone. You’re not.
Adam: I looked up some stuff online and there’s info about how to report people.
Jolene: I don’t want to talk about it.
Adam: He shouldn’t get away with what he did to you.
Jolene: All he did was kiss me.
Adam: He did something you didn’t want. That’s assault.
Told in alternating viewpoints, I loved getting into Jolene and Adam’s heads. I don’t think their story could be accurately and amazingly told otherwise. Like I mentioned before, I already miss these two. I know it’s a standalone but someone needs to do fanfic on this couple already. I’m serious.
Anyway, this is a book that you don’t want to miss! By far, one of the top contemporary YA books I’ve read in a while!! You’ve got to check it out.