Friday, 2 December 2016

'Tonight The Streets Are Ours' by Leila Sales

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*This review will contain spoilers!* 
"I think maybe I just love people too much," Arden answered aloud. "So if other people love me a normal amount, that doesn't come close to matching the way I feel about them."

'Like all stories,  the one you are about to read is a love story. If it wasn't, what would be the point?'
I loved the straightforward attitude of this opener. I'd been considering returning it to the library and borrowing it again at another time, but after reading this I was hooked.

'Tonight The Streets Are Ours' focuses on a question that Arden shouts into the void - Google - in a moment of sheer desperation.
'Why does nobody love me as much as I love them?'
Someone else has asked this exact same question on his blog, Tonight The Streets Are Ours, and Arden is struck by the knowledge that there is someone out there in the world who feels exactly the same way she does. She devours Peter's posts, discovering the tale of a rich boy in New York whose parents don't support him, whose brother runs away from Cornell and whose girlfriend dumps him as soon as his brother leaves, heartlessly abandoning him in his time of need before taking him back after he makes a grand gesture on New Year's Eve.
Arden becomes obsessed with the blog posts, refreshing Tonight The Streets Are Ours at multiple points throughout the day, desperate to see what happens next in Peter's life.
She had many reasons to ask why nobody loved her as much as she loved them. Her best friend Lindsey hides pot in her locker and allows her to take the fall for it. Her mother leaves, running away to New York and leaving her father to care for her and her brother Roman, but he'd rather spend all of his time at work or in his office playing fantasy football. Then there's her boyfriend Chris, an aspiring actor who skips their first anniversary celebrations to go to a meet and greet with the cast and crew of his first film.
The same night Chris leaves her alone in a fancy hotel room, Arden reads Peter's latest post and finds out that him and Bianca have broken up again. She wonders if it's some kind of divine intervention: the people in her life don't treat her right and Peter isn't treated the way he deserves to be, so maybe they're the right people for each other. She phones Lindsey and asks if she wants to go on a road trip to New York and Lindsey accepts, so within the hour they're on the highway phoning every book store in the city to try to track Peter down.

I loved this book
It featured all of my favourite aspects of YA contemporaries: a diverse cast who are extremely easy to relate to, different styles of writing and - best of all - a road trip. You can't beat a road trip. 
I really connected with Arden, because I've often felt the same way she has: that I love the people around me more than they love me. I think it's something a lot of people experience. Our own feelings are intense, but it's difficult to get a true measure of how someone else is feeling. I've always dismissed this fear before, thinking I was just being self-absorbed, but to see it written down on the page was a very emotional experience. 
I liked the discussion about how we show love and what it means to different people. Peter thinks his grand gesture will be enough to keep him and Bianca together, believing them to be soulmates, but she cheats on her boyfriend - Peter's brother - when they start dating and she can't get past the guilt. Arden thinks love is sacrificing everything for another person, but when she listens to her mother she understands that there needs to be give and take in every relationship: you need to love people, but you need to love yourself and make sure that they love you too, or you'll be expending too much energy for little to no return. 
I thought Arden's reaction to meeting Peter was very relevant. Following the announcement that a black actress would play Hermione in 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child', J.K. Rowling insisted that she had never mentioned a skin colour in relation to the character, so she could have had any colour of skin - people just assumed she was white, because the majority of characters normally are. Arden addresses this problem in a direct way...
'He was Asian. Arden had just assumed that he would be white, like she was, like almost everyone in Cumberland was. She felt immediately guilty for expecting, however subconsciously, that everyone she met would look like her.'
...and it makes you reflect on your own personal assumptions regarding characters. I'd also expected Peter to be white and was pleasantly surprised when he wasn't, because it made the story much more realistic. I'm going to make a conscious effort to imagine a wider range of characters in the future.
Peter's blogs were written in a very intriguing way, constantly setting up enigmas that weren't resolved. If Tonight The Streets Are Ours was real, I know for a fact I'd be one of those people checking back every day for new updates! When the real story behind the blog comes out - that Bianca's ex Leo is Peter's brother, who returned about a month after running away and is no longer missing - Arden is disappointed that Peter used his words to deceive his fans, but that's a life lesson in itself: people might be completely honest in their blogs, but it's still only their side of a story involving many people.
The contrast between Arden's life in her small town and Peter's luxurious life in the big city - where he casually hails limousines and attends crazy parties - meant that the second half of the novel went a lot faster than the first half, but even though the start of the book was a slow burn I still found myself enjoying every page I turned.
The epilogue is perfect, giving information about where each and every character ended up following the main story. It's the perfect example of a standalone: every loose end is wrapped up, and this time in all of their lives is put behind them.

If you're looking for a thought-provoking and fun contemporary to read over Christmas, you should definitely grab this one. I can't think of a single aspect of the book that needs improving, and I already think it might be one of my favourite reads of 2016. 
I haven't read any of Leila Sales' other novels yet, but my local library has 'My Song Will Save Your Life' on shelf and that's certainly become a priority read for 2017. If it's as brilliantly written as this one, Leila Sales will have easily put herself in my favourite authors list. 

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