CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 3 . . . . September 18, 2015
Monroe and Nathan are two teens who have to live with major mistakes they made in their past, mistakes which not only impacted their lives but the lives of everyone around them. Monroe leaves New York City to spend the summer in Louisiana with her grandmother. Hopefully the change of scene will pull her out of her depression and get her back on track. Nathan puts his energy and anger into his work, and this brings him to Gram's plantation to do some painting and other restoration. The novel centres around their meeting, their romance, and their efforts to help one another recover and begin to move on with life.
Both Monroe and Nathan are interesting characters. Monroe presents a tough and sassy persona who doesn't let anyone boss her around. Nathan's exterior is that of a good-looking playboy, a musician and football star who can seduce any female who comes his way. As the book progresses, readers see just how deeply Monroe has been hurt and how guilty she feels. Despite the empowerment she projects, she feels helpless. Nathan, once you get under the surface, is a warm and loyal guy, and these traits show up not only in his relationship with Monroe but in his concern for his best friend, Trevor.
Monroe's parents are notable characters. Gradually Monroe accepts that what she thought was inappropriate behaviour from her parents was only the manifestation of their working through their own grief. Likewise, readers see the parents of Trevor and how they manage their grief and anger and their relationship with the teenager who caused the accident. Gram is the rock in Monroe's life, providing a place to stay, practical advice and a life philosophy which will help her granddaughter heal.
Readers know from the outset that Nathan was driving when he and his friends were involved in a serious car accident. Resulting injuries left Trevor in hospital in a coma for months, and, throughout much of the story, it is unclear whether he will survive. The author takes much longer to reveal the nature of Monroe's trauma, and this adds a touch of tension and mystery to the novel. Readers sense that, at some level, she is trying hard to avoid what happened and that it will take someone very special to reach the depths of her grief and guilt.
The setting of Louisiana in the summer is well-chosen as it provides a warm and relaxed atmosphere for the story and is the sort of quiet, laid-back environment where one has time to take stock of life, to think and to heal.
Juliana Stone focuses on the romance between her main characters, and, while charming and generally understandable, the relationship seems to move along too quickly to be realistic. The romantic cliché is there: girl hates boy and wants nothing to do with him, and, in just a few chapters, girl loves boy and can't get enough of him. Hmmm...
The other main theme is that of guilt and redemption. Certainly both teens are going through difficult situations and need to deal with the guilt they feel for their mistakes. Both need to bolster their self-esteem and realize that life will go on and they are worthwhile and deserving people. The path to redemption, particularly for Monroe, seems just a little too simple, too easy. However, because she does mention that she has undergone months of therapy prior to the story, perhaps it is logical that she comes to terms with what has happened more quickly and easily than Nathan.
Stone uses the technique of dual narratives, and it works well to hear from the points of view of both Monroe and Nathan as the story progresses. It does get a little tiring to continually hear how hot each thinks the other is and how sexy they look in whatever they happen to be wearing. One or two descriptions would have been enough to let readers know how they felt, but Stone seems to overwork the sexual attraction within the romantic relationship. The ending, too, seems simplistic but is perhaps Stone's way of leading her readers toward a sequel.
Boys Like You is an entertaining and worthwhile read and certainly is more than the teen romance implied by the cover of the book and the double entendre of the title. Monroe and Nathan must come to terms with overwhelming grief and guilt, and, in doing so, they grow exponentially from the 16-year-olds at the beginning of the story to the young adults at the end.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and high school teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.
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