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Book Review: The Year We Fell Apart – Emily Martin

I wish I liked this book more, I really do. The cover is so pretty, when I saw it on the shelf in the book store I was already in love. However, the story, the characters and so many other aspects of the book disappointed me so much that it took me several attempts and a couple weeks to finish it. Before I tell you why, here is what the book’s about:

The main character, Harper, has done a few mistakes over the past year. EPIC mistakes. She’s been kicked off the swim team, earned a very bad reputation because of that ONE day in the pool with that guy, started drinking. But the worst was probably losing her best friend, Declan, who started boarding school away from her. And now, Declan is back home for the summer. Will the former best friends find their way back to each other?

Sooo…this sounds like a pretty solid YA story, doesn’t it? Well….it may be one, but… The but is pretty dominant in this one. Actually, there’s many buts. It’s really hard to wrap my head around how exactly I want to write this review. It wasn’t so awful that I just DNFed (or threw the book across the room), but it was also not really good.

The book tackles a lot of big issues that could make it a really great read: there’s loss and grieving, (possibly terminal) illness, second chances, (slut) shaming and bullying, the power of first love and friendship, and yet the story doesn’t dive too deep into any of these topics. The main issue I had was probably that the main character is not likeable at all, and she doesn’t really become much better throughout the book. There is this big mystery being made up about what happened that one day in the pool, which later turns out SPOILERSPOILERSPOILER to be just what she still does all the time – hooking up with a random guy to numb her pain. What that pain is supposed to be though never really occurred to me. Declan, her former best friend (and crush), has lost his mother in a terrible accident. He was then shipped off to boarding school by his father who wasn’t into the single-parent thing. Despite all the hardships being thrown his way, Declan still tried to be a good friend to Harper and keep his promises. In my opinion, he had all the rights to be sad, feeling down or acting up, but what reasons does Harper have? Her mother is being diagnosed with cancer and has to go through chemotherapy throughout the book. At several instances, Harper refers to the loss of Declan’s mom, who apparently was a great friend to them all. But instead of now cherishing every moment with her mother, Harper is acting pissed that she is acting so positive. Turns out that her mother isn’t acting at all though. To the reader, this only becomes apparent at the end of the book, but surely Harper knows her mom better? And even if she was acting, what’s so bad about that? It would certainly be a better coping mechanism than Harper’s. She really goes to extremes to numb her pain that I didn’t really get where it was coming from. It was her who stopped talking to Declan, not the other way around. 

Unfortunately, Harper just isn’t a likable character in my opinion. I found her whiny, very selfish, and – even though I don’t like to say that – stupid. She made the same mistake over and over again, and never learned from it. Declan was being sent off to boarding school and tried to stay in touch, but Harper went running to other random guys and alcohol to numb the pain? And with that behaviour, she hurt her family, Declan, and mostly herself. And yet, she did it again and again and again. I spent the whole book wondering if she was ever going to change. Towards the end of the book the author tries to demonstrate her growth, but it was too little too late, in my opinion. I didn’t believe her insight or her resolve was genuine, and I also didn’t see where it was coming from all of a sudden. After each and every mistake she seemed to recapitulate too, but then ended up on the next party with the next (or same) random guy, thinking how much she hated them, and yet still doing the same mistake again.

As for the other characters, most of them were likable enough, but they had no real depth, which I found very unfortunate. Especially because I think they were pretty much the best thing about the book. Her second best friend, Cory, was literally the best friend anyone – but especially Harper – could ask for. Always there for her, picking her up, driving her everywhere, picking the phone up on the first ring, and yet, she never returned any of that. Her new friends Gwen and Mackenzie had almost no depth at all. In the beginning it was even hard for me to keep them apart, so they may as well have been the same character. This changed towards the end, when their boyfriends were mentioned (pretty sad to tell them apart by the guys they like, but I think this may show the lack of depth to their character). The only person who displayed any individuality was Harper’s other friend, Sadie, who owes most of her uniqueness to her very unlikeable traits though. She’s bitchy, she’s selfish, she’s mean. It is repeatedly mentioned how much she hates Declan, and the reason for that is supposedly that she’s caring for Harper (as she fell apart when Declan left the town last time), but actually she just wants company on her many parties. And yet, Harper always puts her first.

Even though I mentioned it already, I have to go back to the cancer issue. Harper’s mother is diagnosed with breast cancer and goes through chemotherapy during the book. I found Harper’s behaviour towards her awful. The whole summer she sneaked out in the mornings and back in late at night, trying to avoid her family at all costs. And why is that? Just because her mom is trying to stay positive. Very nice, Harper. (In case that didn’t come across properly, that was sarcastic. Lol. But really, she’s not a nice daughter – or friend, for that matter.)

Another issue I had, especially in the first half of the book, was that there was too much going places without much happening. Harper is meeting Sadie, going over to Cory’s house, getting picked up from a party, went swimming, walked back to her house, went here and there and everywhere, without much happening at all. At times it just felt like too much. Too many places without a real meaning behing it.

All in all I have to say the whole story just felt off. In YA romances it is often part of the plot to keep the main characters apart until the end, but in my opinion it was too late when they reconnected in the end (I hope this is not a spoiler for anyone). I could have liked the story, if the characters had had more depth, Harper were more likeable or at least showed some actual growth throughout the story. The writing and the idea clearly have potential, but the execution was a bit lacking in my opinion.

2.5 stars from me.

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