Genres: contemporary, fantasy
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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.
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.