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Review: What Happens Now by Jennifer Castle

Saturday, June 18, 2016
Written by Jennifer Castle

YA Contemporary
Hb, 384 pages. Harperteen.
Publication date: June 7, 2016

A copy was provided by Harper Collins for review

What happens when a summer fantasy starts becoming reality? Do you jump in headfirst or start running in the other direction as fast as you can?

Ari Logan isn't used to getting what she wants, not with a younger half sister who clings onto her, an absent mother who works nights, and a stepfather who needs her help at the store. Not to mention that she's still struggling with her memories of the night she cut herself and the inner demons that led her to self harm.

So when she sees Camden Armstrong at the lake one summer and starts crushing on him, she finds safe satisfaction in her fantasies and learning what she can about him from other people instead of approaching him herself. It isn't until the next summer when she runs into him in oops let's not let that embarrassing incident come to light! that her fantasies start becoming reality, and she begins falling for him harder than any of her wildest dreams.

With an inside look at some dysfunctional relationships and the healing process, What Happens Now is a heartbreaking, gut-wrenching read that does not feel as long as its 384 page count suggests. Despite its light-hearted looking cover, this novel is a story about the demons in all of us, about the fight to overcome them, and about forgiveness and the healing that comes after. As scene after scene passes, and Ari continues to make poorer and poorer decisions, I found myself turning the pages quicker desperate to find out where this seeming spiral of destruction led her.

Ari's particular demon is her depressive tendencies. Most novels I've read that explore mental conditions are dark, dense texts that get deep into the heart of the issue to the loss of other areas of the protagonist's life, such as his or her relationship with beyond the romantic interest and a few close friends, maybe a family member. What Happens Now is told in a lighter style that is more in the vein of beach reads that make it a suitable addition to the tote bag. Furthermore, it does not lose sight of Ari's relationship with her best friend Kendall, her new semi? friends (Eliza and Max), or her family members (mom, stepfather, and half sister)—and in fact develops them! It even dips beyond the surface of Ari and Camden's relationship, though their relationship never does seem more than a summer fling that I expected to burn out as quickly as it caught fire. The only character that didn't get as much attention as I would've thought is Ari's ex, with whom she shares some hefty baggage.

I believe that many of us can relate to at least some part of Ari: the depression. The desire for a guy she's hard-time crushing on but can't find the nerve to approach. The baggage with your ex-boyfriend.  The need to rely on a fictional heroine to hold yourself up. The wondering if these cool people can really truly like you. The feeling of falling too hard too fast. The knowing that something is wrong for you but too tempting to let go. The feeling that your best friend is becoming distant, and you don't know how to repair the relationship. The wanting to go further than you should. The pleading to make things right. The crying after a painful breakup. The crying to forget. The coming to terms with the fact that nothing's perfect, but it doesn't need to be. And that's just a part of the picture.

If the wounds still feel fresh, this will be a raw and painful read. Ari does a lot of rebellious things, things that in another context would have made me dismiss her as another wild teen. Knowing the problems in her family and her internal struggles made me feel for her and wish wholeheartedly that things were better for her because I emphasize with a lot she's going through. I wish that she knew how much her mother loves her and that her mother speaks from a place of love—that sometimes the people that know us and love us the best say no to us because they mean well for us. That lying to her parents and running wild with a crowd provides with temporal satisfaction that will not last and is not worth giving up your parents' trust in you. That giving so much of yourself early into the relationship will hurt you and break you when the guy doesn't turn out to be the person you grew to love.

Ari's not a bad girl. She's a beautiful girl that's been hurt badly by the people she cares (and, in some cases, cared) about. Over the course of this novel, she learns to fall in love again, to take chances, and to forgive. She grows into a more confident, if not entirely assured person, and that's okay because life is all about learning and maturing from our experiences. She also learns that everyone carries something, nobody's perfect, and there's no clear-cut answer on when to let go.

That said, I, with all my heart, did not agree with how the romance angle turned out. I believe Ari made the right, if hard, decision once, and I didn't see the need for the unexpected turn that upended her big decision, especially given all that she's been put through. And I absolutely do not see how Ari ignored everything that happened to do what she did at the end. What I do love how the family plot worked out and began moving them in the direction they needed to take, and I wish the romance had been left as it was.

Sometimes, we need to let go and move on.

  • N/A
Mature Content
  • Language (scattered)
  • Explicit sexual content

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