My Rating: 4.5/10
Slight Spoiler Warning
Mara Dyer believes life can’t get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there.
She believes there must be more to the accident she can’t remember that killed her friends and left her strangely unharmed.
She doesn’t believe that after everything she’s been through, she can fall in love.
My reaction to this story turned out to be a classic case of Expectation vs Reality. When I purchased the book, I expected a psychological mystery with a bit of romance on the side. It was hyped a bit on social media which proclaimed it to be one of the best YA novels in the last few years. I opened the book prepared to be amazed. Now, at the end of my troubled journey, I have come to discover that what I actually got was a clichéd YA romance with a bit of psychological mystery on the side.
First the positives. The setup of the story hooked me in rather fast. Though it bore some similar notes to the Hate List with some inciting trauma and a psychological struggle to move past said trauma, I was still fairly curious to figure out the specific details of the accident as it was slowly unveiled during the course of the narrative. It provided just enough intrigue to make me want to know the “why” of everything and managed to hook me all the way through. The narrative also impressed me with how well it illustrated Mara’s PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). The constant hallucinations of her friends and the continual feeling of paranoia were believable and I tensed up whenever Mara fell into a particular episode. When the psychological aspect of the narrative was highlighted, it was written really well.
That’s about all I liked however. I should admit upfront that I’m not a huge fan of romance in YA novels. Whenever it is hinted at in the summaries, it sends up a tiny red flag but never seriously deters me from enjoying a story if either every other plot element compensates for it or it is done fairly well. I blame books of my past for this mentality (I’m looking at you, Twilight). When the romantic element was introduced in this story, that tiny red flag made itself more pronounced. Mara and Noah don’t like each other at first. She heard from various people in the school that he’s a jerk known for toying for a woman’s heart and dumping her as soon as he gets what he wants. Despite his cocky and insufferable attitude, Mara can’t help but find him absolutely charming. He’s beautiful in a rugged type of way and who could deny the charm of his English accent. She tries to shake him off but he’s persistent because he finds himself drawn to her (Oh God, the Twilight flashbacks!). I hate this relationship dynamic. This is the standard YA paranormal romance formula and it pretty much takes over the narrative as soon as it’s introduced. The other elements are still there but they occupy the background.
This was not what I was expecting and that’s the main reason I became so frustrated. Mara and Noah are your typical characters who fall in love and when this mindset became standard, they melted into those lovey dovey roles. Even when things got serious, those roles became more pronounced and were a bit nauseating. Nothing much mattered outside of it. Everyone at the new school characters serve to complicate Mara and Noah’s relationship. You have the clichéd female bully, Anna, (and her equally cliched and problematic gay best friend Aiden) who picks on Mara because she once had a thing for Noah. There’s also Jamie, a well-intentioned friend who continually warns against the relationship. Both of these characters are dropped by story’s end once they achieved their purpose ( with one dropped more egregiously than the other). Mara’s PTSD does come up often but it ceases to affect any real change in the narrative after they start to seriously date. There is also a case concerning a murdered teenager that Mara’s dad is helping on that comes up in the narrative often but is never really explained in detail. This is frustrating because it becomes a big part of the climax.
I tried to like this book. I really, really tried. When it came to the mystery, however, I felt like I left with the same information I started out with. You can guess what happened during the accident a third of the way into the book and the twist to it all wasn’t that impressive. The romance overshadowed most of the other elements and I really couldn’t feel anything for any of the characters because of it (besides frustration). The murder case subplot was also underutilized, making me feel like I missed something near the end.
I will admit that most of my ire comes from a previous bias that I didn’t expect to encounter in this book. I would be lying if I said that I’m not the least bit curious about the sequel. If you like YA romances with psychological/paranormal twists and turns, I would recommend this.