*This review will contain spoilers!*
Bo: 'I'm waiting for the sirens.'
Agnes: 'Every small town has that family. You hear their last name and you just shake your head because you know the whole lot of them are trouble.'Because this is a dual narrative, it only seems right to look at the first sentences that we get from both characters.
I love the way both of them seem to confirm that Bo Dickinson and her family are trouble - it makes it that much more effective when those assumptions are proven incorrect.
The story starts with Bo, who turns up at Agnes's house in the middle of the night with only a small bag of possessions and Utah, her German Shepherd. Agnes has stolen the keys to her sister's car, and they're going on the run. Bo's mother has just been arrested and she's determined that she won't get put back in foster care, so she hopes that her she can find her father and he'll let her live with him. Agnes thinks that they're leaving to find somewhere that they can live together, and Bo fails to correct her.
Agnes's chapters are retrospective, starting before her and Bo are friends. Everyone in Mursey knows the Dickinson's are trouble, and Agnes's best friend is never afraid to spread gossip about Bo and her slutty behaviour. But when Agnes gets lost in the woods behind their respective houses, unable to find her way home due to being legally blind, Bo doesn't think twice before helping her home.
It's the start of a beautiful, turbulent, brief friendship.
Having heard the uproar regarding Voya's review last year, I expected this book to be much more risqué, and I was surprised that it contained virtually no explicit content. Agnes loses her virginity to Bo's cousin, but Bo remains a virgin despite all of the accusatory rumours surrounding her. She kisses the girl that she likes off the page, just recounting it to Agnes later, but doesn't go any further than that.
This leads me to pose the question: why was Bo's sexuality such a big deal? I'm extremely grateful that Kody Keplinger included her in the novel - being bisexual myself it's exhausting to not encounter much representation - but why did the reviewer think the straight-edge virgin was a character that people needed to be warned against? Most of the bisexual characters I've read have been portrayed as stereotypically promiscuous, their interest in multiple genders implying that they need to sleep with everyone, so while it was relieving to have a less overtly sexual portrayal, I don't understand how Bo could have been viewed as inappropriate.
In fact, I think Kody handled Bo's bisexuality beautifully. Her and Agnes have a conversation in which she reassures her that she's not attracted to her, and Agnes accepts that without question. A straight woman isn't attracted to every man she meets, so why should a bisexual be attracted to every person they meet? I particularly loved Agnes and Bo's conversation regarding her bisexuality, in which Agnes quips
"You kissing a girl might be a sin, but me sleeping with a boy I'm not married to? That's definitely a sin.".Despite Agnes attending Sunday school every week, she's open-minded, and that shows that not all religious folks are inherently homophobic. It's okay to believe, but you need to forge personal opinions too.
This is an #ownvoices novel, as Kody herself is legally blind. It makes Agnes's arguments with her parents all the more heart-wrenching, because the battle for freedom and autonomy is one that Kody herself will have warred over the years. Whereas before I've read novels where the blind character was portrayed as a weak, helpless sheep, Agnes is strong and can overcome adversity. It's an empowering representation, and I'm sure it's going to help many blind teenagers.
The back and forth nature of the narrative made it an extremely quick read. I couldn't put this book down! I just had to know what happened to Bo and Agnes when they were on the run, but I also enjoyed the way their relationship developed in the throwback chapters. It was a very realistic friendship, and I found myself rooting for the two of them, particularly because Agnes's parents weren't convinced that their friendship was a good idea at the beginning. You shouldn't judge someone based on their reputation; often rumours are completely unfounded, and people just don't have the energy to argue.
I wasn't happy with the ending, but that's my own problem: I always want fairy tale endings for the characters I care this much about, but that's not the way that life works!
This is a wonderful contemporary roadtrip, even though the two characters are on the run and don't have much time for sightseeing! If you like novels that focus on friendship rather than romance, you'll love this one, particularly if you enjoy bittersweet, realistic endings.
I haven't read any of Kody's other novels, but I'm definitely going to change that. Her writing is simple but enjoyable, and it's been a long time since I've fallen in love with characters this quickly. It's not quite a five star - I would have wanted Bo's sexuality to become more relevant for that - but it was pretty damn close. I sincerely hope there's a sequel, because the ending is left open and there's still a lot of potential with this duo: I can dream!