For Carolina, 9th grade brings big changes. She stops going by “Carrie” in an attempt to be taken more seriously. She’s smart and geeky, but hopes to downplay those qualities in her effort to become more popular. Her best friend Peggy, now going by her full name of Marguerite, happens to have an extremely popular (and mean/shallow/insufferable) sister, Katherine, who is determined to make them the hottest girls in their class. This means tutorials on things like what to wear, how to walk, where to sit, and, most importantly, how to get boys to like them. Carolina understands all of this is kind of ridiculous and ultimately not important, but she’s excited about high school and the possibility of overhauling her image.
For Trevor, 9th grade means a new school and a repeat of a school year. Recently transplanted from California to Illinois, Trevor is decidedly not excited about high school. He’s not excited about anything, actually. “Life is pointless” is one of his mottos. His mother recently attempted suicide and lives in a depressed fog. Trevor’s mindset isn’t much better.
The two teens meet on the first day of school and it’s love at first sight. Really. They both fall hard, even when they know nothing, really, about each other—even when they’ve barely even spoken. It’s just one of those things. They recognize something in each other and are drawn to one another. It doesn’t take long for them to start talking and then start dating. They are both extremely honest about their feelings (though not about everything else in their lives)—awkwardly, painfully earnestly so. They’re both so infatuated and self-conscious and sweet. Carolina is all, Oh my gosh! all the time and Trevor is like, God I love her, but how will this fall apart, and why is everything I say and think so cheesy?
A lot of their story is devoted to their increasingly sexual relationship—and the reader is right there with them for every detail. EVERY DETAIL. There are some of the greatest scenes of talking about sex, both between Trevor and Carolina and between each of them and their parents, that I have read in a long time. Trevor’s mom has an extremely candid talk with him. “Talk to her about things. Okay? Don’t not talk about it just because it’s awkward. If you want to do things sexually, ask her how it makes her feel first. Ask how it feels during it, ask her how it feels afterward. This might sound easy now, and in the moment it’s going to seem impossible, but it’s very important,” she tells him. This is just one of many conversations about sex (later Trevor even admits to her that he’s not good at making Carolina have orgasms and his mom replies, “No teenage boy in the world is.”). Both teens freely mention researching different things about sex, watching porn, things like that. When they do start to have sex, it’s not that great for Carolina, and they get caught up in the moment—repeatedly—and skip protection.
This is young love. It’s sweet and exciting but also upsetting and sometimes way too heavy. Gottfred shows readers all of the parts of being in love—the secrets, the stresses, the joys, the confusion, everything. No matter how old a person is, love is complicated. Their youth doesn’t make their feelings any less serious or real. At times I admit that I felt like, okay, I get it, you’re obsessed with each other, move the story along! But then I remembered how it felt to fall in love for the first time, and how every detail felt amazing, and what a wild ride it was. And in the end, Carolina and Trevor make some big realizations about each other (after many other big realizations about themselves, their families, their relationship, and more).
Readers will root for these two while likely understanding that 9th grade love can’t last. The alternate narration really works here—not only are their voices distinctive, but the way they retell the same part of the story or pick up where the other left off helps move along the story. A lot of it is repetitive—They love each other! Oh my gosh! They make out! Their parents are making them bonkers!—but it’s also real. As much more of a Trevor-type, I found Carolina’s enthusiastic optimism and naiveté a little overbearing at first, but she grew on me as their relationship matured. The book did go on longer than was probably necessary, but that’s kind of fitting, actually, as many relationships do too. I tried to read this with my teenage eyes instead of my nearly-40-year-old-eyes, because adult me often found the repetitiveness and all of Carolina’s exclamations overbearingly tedious. Overall, though, a really honest, romantic, and nuanced (if overlong) look at young love. Those who can relate or who wish they could will eagerly snatch this one up.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date: 7/7/2015