Young Adult Realistic Fiction
I picked this book up after the fab girls of Forever Young Adult posted a review, and the book did not disappoint. I read it all today. The book tells the story of Clara Oates and how she tries to escape an obsessed stalker boyfriend, Christian. In alternating chapters, Clara tells us about the relationship from its beginning and how she is trying to move on as she and her father escape to a tiny coastal town in Washington state, the town in which she and Christian have a final dramatic confrontation.
At first I had a little trouble getting into the narrative. Certain phrases would pull me out of the story, particularly as Clara's father, a famous crime novelist, spoke. I had a little trouble believing his dialogue, especially since I kept picturing him as Rick Castle, although Caletti does not describe him this way. But I got caught up in Clara's narrative as she explains her sad and sometimes frightening relationship with Christian. Clara is narrating some time after the events of the story, and though Caletti doesn't specify, I'm guessing 5 to 10 years have passed because the narrator has, to me, a lot more self awareness and shows a lot of thought has gone into the telling of her story. There is a little clue at the end to support this, but I won't give it away because it would effectively give away the end and ruin the very dramatic climax.
Despite a few stumbles with the father's dialogue, Caletti is spot on describing the psyche of a girl who finds herself in too deep with a troubled boy. In part, Clara admits that she enjoyed the power she had over Christian, the power to tempt him physically and emotionally, the power to turn heads. But Clara also admits to insecurities, and Christian's approval went a long way to soothing them. Take this lovely but sad turn of phrase, in which Clara describes some of the insecurities she felt when she was with her first boyfriend:
To me, my body seemed only good enough, something you'd buy if it were 60 percent off, but not at full price (103).
Wow. Just, wow. I think we've all felt that way, although I think if I'd been asked, when I was a teenager (or now, if I'm being honest), what I would have "sold" for, I'd have gone with a deeper discount. Sad, but true.
I love Clara, and I love her best because she is the anti-Bella Swan. It's no secret how much I despise Twilight and why I despise the series, but Caletti, through Clara, puts it very nicely. I haven't researched the book to know if Caletti wrote this as a direct answer to the Twilight series, but bravo either way. The following passage is my favorite of the entire book, and if I do ever get around to writing my thesis or journal article on Twilight, I'm quoting this.
Clara says, "You read all kinds of books and see all kinds of movies about the man who is obsessed and devoted, whose focus is a single, solid beam, same as the lighthouse, and that intense, too. It is Heathcliff with Catherine. It is a vampire with a passionate love stronger than death. We crave that kind of focus from someone else. We'd give anything to be that 'loved.' But that focus is not some soul-deep pinnacle of perfect devotion -- it's only darkness and the tormented ghosts of darkness. It's strange, isn't it, to see a person's gaping emotional wounds, their gnawing needs, as our romance? We long for it, I don't know why, but when we have it, it's a knife at our throat on the banks of Greenlake [referencing a girl murdered by her obsessed boyfriend]. It is an unwanted power you'd do anything to get rid of. A power that becomes the ultimate powerlessness. Right then, on the beach with Finn Bishop, I learned that the most true-love words are not the ones that grasp and hold and bind you, twisting you both up together in some black dance. No, they are the ones that leave you free to stand alone on your own solid ground, leave him to do the same, a tender space between you" (233).
Yes! YES! THIS! I want to have this engraved on a trophy and send it to Stephenie Meyer. True love, real, healthy love is not what Edward and Bella have! Their relationship is a mockery of true love, the love that takes work and effort on both sides, that respects both people in the relationship.
Okay, I feel a rant coming on, so I'm going to stop now and say that I'm going to recommend this book to every girl I know. It's a cautionary tale, but it's well written without getting too preachy and god, Clara is the best in all her flaws and insecurities and strength. There is no neat, happy ending to Clara's story but rather a realistic ending that's not so much an ending but something the readers can see is just one part of Clara's life and that she still has to go on living the rest of it.