CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 39. . . .June 16, 2017
Just Like You Said It Would Be.
C. K. Kelly Martin.
276 pp., trade pbk., $11.95.
N.P.: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017.
Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
Review by Joanie Proske.
Sometimes it is immediately clear from the first pages that a book will deliver an unforgettable read. Other times, it takes longer for a story to resonate with the reader as the characters and story events are gradually revealed, transporting the reader into the powerful emotional core of a story.
C. K. Kelly Martin’s latest realistic fiction novel is an example of a slow build up to a memorable story. The opening chapters provide a flurry of events, characters, flashbacks, dialogue, and backstory references - all delivered through a first person perspective. Although a tad overwhelming at first, the numerous details of these first chapters soon coalesce to provide a solid foundation for a believable story of first love and coming-of-age. Just Like You Said It Would Be develops into one of those books that is enriched by its ability to tap into and build upon the reader’s own personal reflections.
Amira, 16, is “the kind of teenager a parent hardly had to worry about.” She plans to spend her summer vacation at home in Toronto supporting her best friend Joss, whose older brother is facing jail time on a drunk driving charge. However, Amira’s parents have a different idea and have decided to spend their summer going on a long cruise in an attempt to repair their fraying marriage. Against her protests, Amira is sent three thousand miles away to stay with relatives in Dublin.
Despite her misgivings, once in Ireland, Amira finds herself warmly welcomed by her extended family and very much included in her cousins’ activities. Zooey, now 19, sings in an Indie band called The Brash Heathens. While attending one of their performances, Amira meets the band’s guitarist, Darragh. Although she admires his musical talent, she is not as impressed by Darragh’s casual attitude towards the women he dates and has no desire to be included as the other half of his next summer fling or what she describes as a “claustrophobic playing field”. With the band’s practice space located at her aunt and uncle’s home, Darragh is a frequent visitor, and it is inevitable that his path will continue to cross with Amira’s.
Through these chance meetings, the teens’ friendship slowly develops as they open up to one another. During one of their conversations, Darragh encourages Amira to explore her passion for movies and film making, and she decides to enroll in a screenwriting course from the local Irish Film Institute. And while the relationship momentum is peppered with the occasional setback, it is also strengthened by Darragh’s genuine concern for Amira - including supporting her growing anxiety over her friend Joss and her brother’s upcoming trial back in Toronto.
As the summer passes, the young couple become aware of the intense feelings they now hold for one another. They agonize about taking a chance on changing their relationship status to a more romantic one, especially when they recognize that there really is no future for them. Shortly, Amira will have to return to Canada to go back to school, and Darragh has the obligations of touring with his band. How can they hope to remain together? And is starting a relationship worth the inevitable painful breakup?
Darragh cleared his throat. “What you said before – that if we genuinely like each other enough it should be possible to be friends – I want to try. But I need you to do something for me as well.”
“Don’t write the rest off yet. Don’t box us in.”
I jutted my chin out. “That’s just like being back at square one, with the waiting and – “
“It’s not,” Darragh protested. “We’re friends. Just friends. But don’t cut off the possibilities.”
I didn’t say yes or no; I stared at him on the Trinity lawn feeling famished for what we were denying each other - the same possibility that he wanted to keep alive. Did he think this was easy for me? I’d wanted more at least as much as he did; he was the one with his foot still stuck in his friends-with-benefits past with Ursula. Didn’t he see what I was suggesting was our last chance for something real?
“If you’re serious, do me a favour,” I declared. “No more if we were together talk. It’s not fair.”
“You’re right.” Darragh bowed his head apologetically. “I won’t say that again, I promise.”
“Thank you. I’m glad we talked about it, and everything else.”
Authors often write about what they know. Reading Martin’s (C.K. = Carolyn Kathleen) biographic details, it seems likely that aspects of her life were woven throughout this novel. Martin attended York University in Toronto and majored in film studies, lived in Dublin for several periods of time, and is also married to an Irishman. Sound familiar? Perhaps it is this personal experience that allowed the author to so perfectly capture the passionate intensity of first love. Her writing also reflects the rollercoaster of teenaged emotions – of close friends wanting to offer support during a difficult time and yet feeling jealous and isolated by each other’s individual accomplishments, as well as the frustrations of coping with parents who don’t fully appreciate or consider your needs. When interviewed about how she is able to portray adolescent feelings with such authenticity, Martin responded, “I seriously don’t know. I read lots of nonfiction books and articles on young adults, check out lots of stuff on the Internet and pay attention to the teenagers I’m around in person…I just write what I think to be true.” The truth in her writing obviously resonates with her teen readers, and she is the author of many popular character-driven books including: My Beating Teenage Heart, Come See About Me (2012), The Sweetest Thing You Can Sing and Delicate as well as the science fiction titles Yesterday (2012) and Tomorrow (2013).
School libraries wishing to purchase Just How You Said It Would Be for their collections should be aware that this novel contains explicit language, makes mention of drinking, and includes very explicit descriptions of sexual intercourse which are integral to the storyline. These scenes are a deliberate inclusion by Martin who writes in her blog, "I feel young adult literature has a responsibility here. It can and should play a role, reflecting realistic sexual experiences, both good and bad and thereby allowing teenagers to process aspect of the experiences before they are ready in engage in sex themselves."
In Just Like You Said It Would Be, teens will be sure to connect to Amira’s maturity as she struggles to sort out the intensity of her emotions. Adult readers will most likely find themselves dredging up deeply treasured memories about this age in their own lives.
Joanie Proske is a teacher-librarian in the Langley School District, Langley, BC.
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