Thursday, December 3, 2015

A Beautiful Story About Friendship and "The Future" | Review: Just Visiting by Dahlia Adler (ARC)

Just Visiting by Dahlia Adler
Publisher: Spencer Hill Contemporary
Release Date: November 17th, 2015
Reagan Forrester wants out—out of her trailer park, out of reach of her freeloading mother, and out of the shadow of the relationship that made her the pariah of Charytan, Kansas.

Victoria Reyes wants in—in to a fashion design program, in to the arms of a cute guy who doesn't go to Charytan High, and in to a city where she won't stand out for being Mexican.

One thing the polar-opposite best friends do agree on is that wherever they go, they’re staying together. But when they set off on a series of college visits at the start of their senior year, they quickly see that the future doesn’t look quite like they expected. After two years of near-solitude following the betrayal of the ex-boyfriend who broke her heart, Reagan falls hard and fast for a Battlestar Galactica-loving, brilliant smile-sporting pre-med prospective... only to learn she's set herself up for heartbreak all over again. Meanwhile, Victoria runs full-speed toward all the things she thinks she wants… only to realize everything she’s looking for might be in the very place they've sworn to leave.

As both Reagan and Victoria struggle to learn who they are and what they want in the present, they discover just how much they don't know about each other's pasts. And when each learns what the other’s been hiding, they'll have to decide whether their friendship has a future.
"Thank you, Dahlia, for writing this book. The world needs it; people who were like me in high school need it."

Disclaimer: This review is based of of the ARC, which I won from the author in a giveaway. This did not affect my review in any way, nor am I being compensated for this.

Every time I read a book written by someone I know and love, I hope that I won't be disappointed because that might create awkward situations. But once again, I need not have worried. Dahlia and her books are forces to be reckoned with, and it's part of why I love them.

There is no doubt that the book's strength is its focus on a strong, positive friendship. Reagan and Victoria's relationship is so solid and so important. So often, books focus on romantic relationships or on friends that tear one another down. While those are certainly real experiences, so many of us hope to have or have the kind of friendship that Victoria and Reagan do. I love how they complement each other while also being completely different. I think my best friend Jess and I are like that in many ways. While we definitely have some things in common, we're both very different people. Yet, she's one of the people I'm closest to, and I can't imagine how much more horrible high school would have been without her. Just Visiting made me think about all of my own experiences with her in high school, and while it wasn't quite like that of Reagan and Victoria, their friendship reminded me of how much I treasure my own, both now in college and before in high school.

Another one of Dahlia's strengths is writing complex, intersectional characters who develop throughout the book. It's something that can become easy to expect from all books after you've read a book or two by Dahlia, but then you remember/realize that it doesn't carry across all books (which is sad and terrifying to think about and needs to be changed). But more than having these characters, I love how the different parts of them don't necessarily define who they are. Certainly, being Mexican is a huge part of her identity and shapes who she is, but there's more to her than being Mexican. It's a central theme but not the only one. Almost all of the bigger characters (Reagan, Victoria, Dev, "Freckles," all the parents, etc) in the book are intersectional in different ways, but they are not token characters hoping to give the author and the book diversity points. Instead, it's genuine and reflects how many people in real life are.

Dahlia also has a way of writing heartbreaking tensions and conflicts and excels at weaving a story in a way that makes you smile and laugh in one moment and cry in the next. There's just something I love about her writing and the way she tells stories. I hope she never loses that magic.

Speaking of magic, she also writes the most amazing, magical romances and romantic scenes. *swoons* And I love how while it is a big part of the story, it's not all that there is. In fact, there's so much more said about "the future," the uncertainness of it. I actually recently wrote a blog post on Infinite Golden Floors about my own doubts over my future. It's not something that goes away once you're in college. I've only just started, but so many of my upperclassmen friends have no idea either. But to be honest, do most people ever truly know? But it's especially daunting when you're on the cusp of entering a new part of your life, whether that's graduating high school or graduating college. With my younger sister and many of my friends applying to colleges now and having just gone through the process myself last year, I completely understand that feeling as a high school senior of having to get ready to leave everything behind--all the friends and people you've known most of your life, your home, etc. Of course, not everyone leaves home and some people do stay friends, but again, it's not something you can know for sure. And choosing a college is difficult too--it has to be affordable, be in a desirable location, have your intended major (if you're going in with one), etc. It's so much and can be so overwhelming, but it's also so much better when you have a friend to get through it with you. And to see struggle in book characters can make the feeling so much more validating, can make some feel so much less alone.

It's funny I rated this 4.5 because now that I'm writing this book, I'm not sure what criticism I had for this book. Maybe it was that I felt like something was missing, some missing piece. It may have had something to do with the parents or with wanting certain things to have been talked about a bit more (like how Reagan was forced to type up an assignment even though her teacher knew she wasn't able to at home and would have to go to the trouble of finding another way to get it done). But those are so minuscule when you look at everything else in this book.

If you haven't read any of Dahlia's books yet, I'm not sure what you're waiting for. She always writes the most amazing stories that never fail to make an impact. Thank you, Dahlia, for writing this book. The world needs it; people who were like me in high school need it. And to all the high school seniors out there, you are not alone. You can make it through.
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