CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 11. . . .November 13, 2015
Some Kind of Normal.
Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Fire (Distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books), 2015.
287 pp., trade pbk., $12.99.
Tutors and tutoring-Fiction.
Brain-Wounds and injuries-Fiction.
Grades 8-10 / Ages 13-15.
Review by Charlotte Duggan.
“I want to know you Everly.” I took a step closer. “I want to know what your favorite movie is. What songs you sing. I know you dig Elton John, but what about Billy Joel? Mozart? Alicia Keys? I want to know what you think about at night just before you fall asleep.” I paused, surprised at the tightening in my chest. “I want to know why sometimes you look so sad. I want to know who hurt you.”
Some Kind of Wonderful is Juliana Stone’s latest YA novel. Tapping into the successful themes of her previous work, Stone has created a crowd pleasing young adult romance. Yet despite adhering to all the plot point rules of the genre (boy and girl from different worlds are forced together, fall in love, until their values/pasts/personal problems push the relationship to the brink), Stone mostly manages to escape cliché by dressing her characters in serious, relevant issues.
Set in the small town of Twin Oaks, Louisiana, the story is narrated in alternating chapters by Trevor and Everly. Trevor is a 17-year-old former party boy. His dream of finishing high school and moving to New York to make music is on hold following a serious car crash. The traumatic brain injury he suffered has kept him out of school, and now he needs a tutor so he can catch up on his academics.
Enter Everly, the beautiful, brilliant, “straight as an arrow” daughter of the town’s church minister. Also, Trevor’s social opposite. Everly has been hired to tutor Trevor. Everly hints that she has her own problems, problems that for now she’s not sharing with anyone.
Stone accurately captures the quick, intense pace of teen romance as the pair move inevitably from mistrust to intimacy. Their individual problems become a force that draws them to each other. Trevor is intrigued by Everly’s sadness – what could possibly be amiss in this girl’s apparently perfect life? Meanwhile, Everly sees and is moved by this new and vulnerable Trevor who is so not the boy he was before the accident.
While Trevor deals with the frustrations and embarrassment his brain injury causes him, his growing attraction for Everly allows him to both open up to her and help her handle the mysterious problem going on in her parents’ marriage. This plot element is intriguing but awkward. Through most of the story, Stone lets the reader conclude that Everly’s father is having an affair. When the truth is finally revealed, it does feel as though there hasn’t been enough time to explore all the issues thoroughly. Still, the introduction of an alternative lifestyle into an otherwise orthodox plot is modern and inclusive, and it also allows the characters an opportunity to expand beyond our expectations.
Fans of the genre will appreciate the attention Stone devotes to the physical characteristics of the two young lovers. These details signal their immediate attraction to one another. Trevor tells readers, “The girl had great legs, so the fact that her cutoff denim shorts showed them off wasn’t something I could ignore. And well, the T-shirt”. And of Trevor, Everly says, “His plain black T-shirt showed off impressive biceps…his faded jeans hung low on the hips”. As their relationship heats up, so do the descriptions.
Stone’s snappy dialogue also contributes to the sexy atmosphere. While the exchange of flirty zingers is at times unrealistically sophisticated for teens, it’s also a lot of fun. Here’s Everly and Trevor after only 10 minutes together:
“You might want to get that carburetor fixed.”
“That is probably the sexiest thing a girl has ever said to me.” I was teasing. It’s what I did. But as soon as the words left my mouth I winced, because man, could I sound more stupid?
Her eyes widened slightly. ‘Well, then I feel sorry for you, Trevor Lewis.”
“Oh,” I said. “And why is that?”
“If that’s the sexiest thing you’ve ever heard, then obviously your reputation is overrated.”
Stone also manages to walk a fine line between explicit detail and control in describing Everly and Trevor’s growing intimate physical relationship. She seems ever mindful of her audience who, like the characters in the novel, may be intrigued by sex but not emotionally mature enough to have sex. While Stone provides plenty of precise lusty detail, it is always presented in the context of a relationship that is respectful and caring.
Some Kind of Wonderful never manages to reach the emotional depth or sophistication of Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park or John Green’s The Fault is in Our Stars, but readers 13 to 15 – mostly girls – will find it enjoyable and satisfying.
Charlotte Duggan is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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