Places No One Knows: Review

May 20, 2016 2016, Kim, magical realism 12 ★★★½

Places No One Knows: ReviewPlaces No One Knows Published by Delacorte Press on May 17, 2016
Genres: contemporary, fantasy
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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For fans of Lauren Oliver and E. Lockhart, here is a dreamy love story set in the dark halls of contemporary high school, fromNew York Times bestselling author Brenna Yovanoff.

Waverly Camdenmar spends her nights running until she can’t even think. Then the sun comes up, life goes on, and Waverly goes back to her perfectly hateful best friend, her perfectly dull classes, and the tiny, nagging suspicion that there’s more to life than student council and GPAs.

Marshall Holt is a loser. He drinks on school nights and gets stoned in the park. He is at risk of not graduating, he does not care, he is no one. He is not even close to being in Waverly’s world.

But then one night Waverly falls asleep and dreams herself into Marshall’s bedroom—and when the sun comes up, nothing in her life can ever be the same. In Waverly’s dreams, the rules have changed. But in her days, she’ll have to decide if it’s worth losing everything for a boy who barely exists.

What a strange impossible dream of a story this book is. For the first ¾ of it I had no idea entirely what to make of it. Here is a girl who doesn’t sleep, but basically sleepwalks through her life. The (probably intentional) sense of numbness did nothing to make this an enjoyable reading experience.  It was like reading through a haze of drear and gray. And then, in the final act, it was as if a flower had suddenly turned to bloom. My heart was aching, and I was gripping the pages turning them furiously while shouting at the heroine in my head. I went from feeling sort of meh to full on adoration. This is one of the hardest times I’ve ever had rating a book.

I’ll tell you right off the bat that a part of the reason I had trouble connecting is that I found the writing unbearably pretentious (particularly in Waverly’s narration). Here’s a sample:

“The last time I was this close to him, it was a commotion of touching. His hands, picking apart the rigid panels of my exoskeleton. His mouth, finding mine with the certainty of a meteor.”

For what it’s worth, I think if you like the writing style of We Were Liars you won’t have any trouble with this one. Although, to be fair to Places No One Knows, the writing is nowhere near that level of obnoxious and pretension. Also, the characters have names like Kendry, Palmer, and Loring. This (irrationally?) annoys me and had me set up against wanting to like the book.

Here is a story about two incredibly broken people. What’s remarkable is that the seemingly normal, seemingly “perfect” character is much more of a mess than the slacker stoner who also binge-drinks on weeknights. That sounds hard to top, I know. It’s a thing to behold, as you read the book and this realization gradually comes over you. Yovanoff has used the weight of your expectations and assumptions to subvert them. There are other ways to be broken than to engage in substance abuse.

Both main characters are tenderly and empathetically drawn. The story is told in dual POV, but we spend more time in Waverly’s mind, with some Marshall chapters interspersed. And they are well needed. Seeing inside of Waverly is exhausting in its monotony and how very much she is not enjoying one single aspect of her rote life. Worse, she is trapped in an inability to express herself or communicate her true thoughts.  She is constantly presenting the facade of “perfect Waverly.” No one knows the true Waverly. Not even Waverly herself. And Marshall. Sweet, lovely, warm, loving Marshall. A boy with a heart so tender he cannot handle the harshness and the bleakness of his family life. So he drowns it.  We have the girl who wants to be anything but numb and the boy who wishes that is all he could be.

Here is a story about two incredibly broken people. And I know what you’re thinking. “But isn’t it problematic when a love story is about two people healing only because of the other? Isn’t it problematic to imply that if you have serious problems somehow love will magically cure it all?”  Yes! And I was thinking it, too. And then the book cleverly, deeply, and heart achingly subverted my expectations. Every time I had an objection to the story, or observed a perceived flaw, I found it had been masterfully countered by the book’s end. When I finished this book I couldn’t escape the feeling that it was much smarter than I am and I just couldn’t see that until I had gotten to the end.

At one point I was thinking about how Waverly and Marshall hadn’t gotten to know each other all that well. But this wasn’t true. They just didn’t go through the conventional tropes and trappings that I’m used to. Their relationship and communications were deeper and more subtle, and powerfully felt.

“Tell me anyway. I like embarrassing things.”

“I know you do,” he says. “Which is totally screwed up.”

And I laugh, because it’s better to hear him say that and know he means it than to hear anyone else in the world call me good and sweet and tenderhearted, and realize they don’t know anything about me.

That is what we all want, right? To know, and to be known. Truly known. You know that feeling you get when a book says something true? When it cleaves right down to the bone? The slam bam ending of this story provides that feeling in spades. How does Waverly magically transport into Marshall’s room? What does it matter how it’s not “really” possible? It happens and we (and they) accept it. Because, after all, isn’t that what love feels like? Like an improbable dream that finally came true?

This book is sad, and improbable, and wondrous. By the time I finished it it had become something so entirely different than I was expecting to experience I wanted to sit down and start it all over again because I had been clearly underestimating it from the beginning. It has many smart and sharp and true things to say about love and life and relationships (family, friends, romantic). This is a story that looks into the dark, tragic hearts of humans and shows them hope and courage.


kim teal









An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.





12 Responses to “Places No One Knows: Review”

  1. Meg @ Megnificent Books

    Great review! It always seems to me like the hardest reviews to write are the ones where your opinion is split straight down the middle. On another note, would you describe this as magical realism?

  2. Dichotomy Girl

    Good review! I am a big fan of Brenna Yovanoff, there is total author chemistry. And I was lucky to have Wendy pass on her Arc copy that she DNF’ed, and I really enjoyed it.

  3. Carina Olsen

    Ohh :D Lovely review Kim. <3 So so glad that you liked this book a lot, despite some issues with it :) Gah. You are making me curious about it. But LOL. I would not like that writing :D Or the names. Sigh. I have read SO MANY books by Brenna. Yet this one I did not order. Sniffs. Did not sound like my kind of plot, sadly :\ but now I'm curious. Though not that curious, honestly :) Thank you for sharing your lovely review sweetie. <3
    Carina Olsen recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday #241

    • Kim

      It’s really hard to say…nearly all of the interactions between Waverly and Marshall take place in a dream of sorts. But! It’s all actually happening. Waverly falls asleep and is magically transported to Marshall. How does this happen? Is her body still in her bed? Based on evidence (leaves on her feet after stomping through a back yard) it appears she is physically there as well. So I would say it’s not actually a dream sequence. Sleep is just, like, the vehicle that takes Waverly to Marshall. Everything they say and everything they do is real and really happens. It’s not like they go to school the next day and only one or neither is aware of what happened in the “dream” the night before. They both know and remember. Part of what made the story so ultimately effective to me was that palpable sense of impossible longing that separated them in the daylight hours.
      Kim recently posted…Places No One Knows: Review

      • Alisa @ Papercuttts

        Hmmm that is acceptable, I guess. Magic realism is okay, and that’s almost like magic realism. I read Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer, and it has something similar. Characters go into a kind of trance that is so real that it is much more than a dream. What I don’t like is when a dream happens and characters in the dream do things that mean absolutely nothing in the reality of story… it was just a dream to show the fears or thoughts of the character having the dream.
        Alisa @ Papercuttts recently posted…Reading African-American Authors

  4. Leah

    I felt the same while reading it. Half the time I was rolling my eyes or cringing at the pretentiousness, but at the end of the day, Waverly and Marshall’s love story became one of my favorites.

    • Kim

      Oh, it makes me so happy to see you say this, Leah! It’s always so relieving to hear that someone else had the exact same reaction. Especially with a book like this which is in some ways a disorienting read. Their story was so sweet and endearing by the end. I’m really interested to see how I’ll feel on a re-read.

    • Kim

      Thanks! It was definitely such a strange book, and even stranger to review. But something so magical had happened by the end, there. It really was worth it because I haven’t felt that way reading a new-to-me romantic couple in so long. I’m eager to re-read it now!
      Kim recently posted…Places No One Knows: Review