Making my way through my TBR!
Just Visiting by Dahlia Adler (Spencer Hill Contemporary, 2015) is the second book I’ve read this year by Ms. Adler, the first being Behind the Scenes (whose sequel I will get to! I haven’t forgotten it!). I enjoyed Ms. Adler’s interview on an episode of the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast so much that I put two of her books on my TBR, and Just Visiting is the second. It’s been rare for me in the past to read the same author multiple times in a year- I’m more the kind of gal who likes to shake things up and make sure I read a wide variety of writers, but I enjoyed her style so much that I was thrilled to jump back in to another one of her worlds.
As best friends, Reagan and Victoria couldn’t be more different. Victoria, who is Mexican-American, lives a fairly comfortable middle-class life with her clearly-in-love college professor parents. Reagan lives in a trashy trailer park and works a full-time job to help her ne’er-do-well parents pay the bills (and even when she hands over money, it’s never certain the lights will actually stay on). Both girls have big dreams to leave their small Kansas hometown behind, but for very different reasons.
A weekend college visit gives Victoria a taste of the sorority life she’s been craving, and Reagan meets a boy who opens her eyes to the possibility of love after having her heart shredded by her controlling jerk of an ex. But choosing a college isn’t easy, especially when you’re still figuring out who you are and who you want to become. Reagan and Victoria will learn some hard lessons about being true to who they are, even if it means letting go a little.
Just Visiting is another winner from Dahlia Adler. I’m not quite as deep into the YA scene as I once was, but she’s absolutely got her fingers on the pulse of teenagers today, especially in terms of dialogue and emotions. Seventeen is a rough age, the pressures heaped on kids today are unreal, and Ms. Adler nails all of it in Victoria’s struggle to define herself and decide her future, and in Reagan’s world-weary sense of responsibility and desperation to begin living life solely on her terms.
Reagan as a character is deep, raw, and painful to read. Nearly every adult around her has failed her badly, in pretty much every way (and I’m not counting poverty; poverty isn’t necessarily a failing, just a circumstance. There are, unfortunately, far too many people who work full-time and still can’t make ends meet), leaving her drained and mature beyond her years. Her determination to better her life and leave her desolate hometown and irresponsible parents behind is admirable, but it’s her broken heart, along with her pain of being tormented by her classmates, that I think is most relatable. Though he never makes an actual appearance, her ex-boyfriend (along with his family, and Reagan’s parents) is a huge piece of crap (and there’s mention of birth control sabotage on his part here, so beware if that’s a subject that’s upsetting to you), and Reagan is so deeply wounded in so many ways that her distress is nearly tangible. Ms. Adler really does an amazing job of showing teen determination in the face of serious adversity.
Victoria is the breather we need after Reagan’s pain. Though she comes with an uncomfortable backstory of her own, her supportive family and friendship with Reagan have negated the majority of ill affects and she dreams of a future filled with parties and sororities where she’ll finally fit in with the crowd like she’s always wanted. Her entire family is serious #goals, especially her Deaf mother (with whom Victoria communicates in ASL, which I LOVE! I don’t know that I’ve ever read a book with just a random Deaf character who isn’t there to show us How Deaf People Live, or How To Overcome Disability- can you tell I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, where books with characters who had a disability were Very Special Lessons? Ugh. Victoria’s mom is just a regular college professor who just happens to be Deaf, along with being super-loving and supportive. HIGH FIVE, MS. ADLER!!!), her long-distance abuela, who I don’t think ever actually shows up in person, but who Victoria references so much that I feel like I know her now too, and her brother Javi, who, though he’s off with the Peace Corps, still manages to stay involved in his little sister’s life. Victoria struggles with knowing what she wants to do and also with wanting to make everyone else happy, something that I think almost everyone can relate to. She’s all of us, with maybe better fashion sense- or maybe that last part is just me. 😉
This is a book about deep, serious friendship, about making decisions that speak to who we truly are as a person, about setting goals and working for them no matter what it takes, about what we shouldn’t have to do but sometimes still do anyway, about the power of friendship and about learning- who we are, what we need, what’s best for each of us. It’s sweet, it’s heartbreaking, and at times, if you’re a decent person and a good human being, you’ll want to kick a few of the terrible small-town side characters somewhere where it’ll count, deeply. (And far from straying towards caricature, Ms. Adler really hits the nail on the head with how awful they are. I’ve known people like that, and…yeah.)
Just Visiting is just a great example of the YA genre. I’m still riding the Dahlia Adler Fan Train after finishing it. 🙂