Trigger warning: Mention of rape/abuse of minors. Not implicit, but it is fairly important to the plot later on and not what the reader might be expecting.
I loved this book! Really loved it. Yes, it is practically a trashy teen romance with lots of cliches. I’m not denying that. However, I’d rather have something like this – which doesn’t need to try very hard to do what it sets out to do – than some kind of overambitious dystopian future with countless plot holes which falls apart in a few chapters. This book was consistent, and I liked that.
I enjoyed all of the characters to some extent, even the horrible ones. (They weren’t horrible all the time.) I also really loved the dynamics between the protagonist and her love interests more than naything. Ren was a great character to read about, and her interactions with Jesse and Jeremy were really, really cute. We had a pretty large cast and lots of directions to take the plot, and it felt like everyone was important in some way or another.
This book tries to make out that it’s something more than just teen romance, but…it isn’t, really. It’s about Ren finding love in America and there’s no two ways about it. There’s this subplot about a serial killer on the loose but strangely enough it’s mostly in the background whilst we focus on Ren making out with Jeremy, or Jesse, or whichever half-naked shirtless hot boy she’s enamoured with. Like, I was 2/3 of the way through the book before they were like “Oh shit, somebody else has been murdered. Ren, don’t you think you should be going home now before you get killed too?”
The story being this: Ren is working as a nanny in America for the summer. Here, she ends up getting romantically involved with two of the many hot guys who lives here, and…well, that’s the bulk of the book. There’s a serial killer in town who goes around murdering foreign nannies. Just like her. You can imagine how that works out.
It’s strange that the serial killer is mostly in the background the whole time and does almost NOTHING until the last chapter (in fact, I almost forgot he was there). He kills one girl in the entire book, and he doesn’t even do a good job of it. (She runs away and only dies of her wounds much later). The murder seemed almost like an afterthought, but I understand that wasn’t the focus of the book. It’s also not easy to guess who the killer is, because of the large cast and there’s so many characters that he could be.
There’s another subplot where one of the boys has been preying on underage girls. I say “preying”, but rape and abuse are involved (though in the past tense, that is, since it’s crimes he’s committed before). Nobody has filed any charges against him because he is very rich, has a lot of connections, and has a powerful lawyer that will protect him from any consequences.
This guy was actually more iconic than the fricking serial killer, I swear. You really wanted to see him thrown in prison for his crimes, he showed no remorse for anything he did and actually bragged about it. He also got more focus than the murderer did. If anything, he was a lot more interesting because he was one of the main characters, too. The scenes where they finally confront him are some of the most intense ones in the entire story.
Let’s take a look at the core of the book - Ren’s two love interests.
Love Interest Number One: Jeremy. He’s one of the first boys that Ren meets in the story, and is a total gentleman from the very beginning. He opens doors for her, compliments on her appearance all the time, takes her out to parties, makes her feel like the world revolves around her, makes out with her quite a bit and she’s always swooning over him. He sounds like the perfect boyfriend.
Love Interest Number Two: Jesse. Practically unapproachable “bad boy”. Most people avoid him because he has a reputation for being aggressive and violent. Prior to this book, he literally beat the shit out of another guy, landing him into hospital. He’s done time in juvenile prison as a result and also has a restraining order. Yeah, it’s that bad. But wait, he also plays guitar and sings in a band, and that makes him cooler. When Ren meets him for the first time, she finds him pretty intimidating already (but he also has his shirt off at the time and she can’t stop looking at his muscles).
Guess who she’s more attracted to? You think it’s the guy who treats her like she’s the centre of his world? The non-violent one?
Nope. Guess again. She goes for the violent bad boy who’s done time for assault. Seriously. What is wrong with her? Who in their right mind would do that?! Even her friends think she’s nut for going for him. He may be her second choice, but she gets attracted to him pretty fast.
However! We get a plot twist, and it turns out Mr Nice Guy was just using Ren to score points with another dickhead friend of his, so actually he’s no longer nice or a gentleman at all. It also turns out that Mr Violent Guy had a very good reason for wanting to put that other guy into hospital – but the fact remains that he still lost control and beat him to a pulp, meaning that he’s still very violent and our protagonist seems to forget that.
I guess if she’d read on in the book then she might have a reason for dating Jesse for plot reasons, but it still doesn’t make sense. The first time she meets Jesse, he literally looks like he wants to kill her…I mean, come on. This isn’t healthy. This just sounds like she’s attracted to really violent men. Good thing that the violent guy wasn’t actually that violent after all, but man, it just feels a bit off.
Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was romantic, it was cute, it had conflict – and just the right amount, too. It didn’t try to shove tons of drama and conflict down our throat like some YA books I could name, and it never made me feel bored at all. It was just right. There was a love triangle, obviously, but it actually made sense and didn’t feel forced.
I cannot tell you what a breath of fresh air it is in a YA novel to have a love triangle which actually feels like it BELONGS there. So far, I’ve only found this to be true in actual romance books which revolve around the romance and very little else.
I guess one criticism was that Ren was pretty similar to most female protagonists you find in a YA novel, and didn’t seem very unique. But you know what, I didn’t care. The romance was done well enough that it hardly seemed to matter. And I can’t fault the book for that.
All in all, I’ll give this a 4.