When I heard that Diana Peterfreund was publishing a New Adult novel under the Viv Daniels pen name, I was very curious. I was even more excited after I read the blurb, because I like complex family dynamics and when the love of your life is your legitimate half-sister’s boyfriend, I kind of expect just that. Now that I have read the book, I can say that it was not what I expected in both positive and negative ways.
Our heroine, Tess, grew up knowing she was the product of an affair between her mother and a rich, married man. Her father was somewhat present in her life, but the unspoken rule in their relationship was that she should always remain a secret. And even after finding out that she had a half-sister, Tess focused all that curiosity, envy, and secret yearnings for a normal family, into her dream of becoming a scientist.
After graduating high school, Tess goes to a prestigious science summer camp where she meets the dreamiest, smartest boy ever. She tries to ignore him, because she fears a romance will get in the way of her academic goals, especially after finding out that he plans to attend Tess’ dream college, which also happens to be forbidden to her. However, chemistry, as we know, is hard to resist and they end up falling in love. But when the summer ends he says a temporary goodbye, while she says goodbye forever.
Or so she thinks.
Fast forward two years, and Tess has just transferred to her dream college. Needless to say, drama ensues.
First, she comes face to face with Mr. Dreamy McPerfectpants (whose actual name is Dylan) who remains super nerdy and cute, but in a hunky way. Second, she discovers that her sister, who is spoiled and has no idea her father has another family, is a fellow student and the reason that particular college was forbidden. And then she finds out that Dylan and her sister are dating, because of course.
The first half of the book was a pleasant surprise. New Adult is a relatively new term that we seem to be constantly trying to define, yet its tropes and clichés are already boringly familiar. One of those tropes is the damaged bad boy, of which Dylan is the complete opposite, and the fact that such character was surprising and refreshing is telling of just how overused and trite the bad-boy trope has become. He is well-adjusted and has a loving family.
On the other hand, Tess is the standard NA heroine: Mary-Sue-ish, hard-working, and slightly traumatized by something in her past. But then again, her traumas had nothing to do with sexual abuse, for which I’m grateful.
As I said before, the potential for a complex family dynamics is what lured me to the story. It also has interesting class and privilege issues as well. Tess has a chip on her shoulder and works hard to support herself, is curious of a sister whose privileged life is completely alien to her, and her relationship with her parents is complicated and filled with mixed feeling. But none of these issues were explored or developed; instead, everything takes a back seat in favor of a romance that was nowhere near as compelling.
I like Romance, and I like NA. I also like Romance in my NA. Yet I don’t think all NA's should be Romances. But Romance and its friend, the explicit sex scene, have become standard fixtures of what already is a narrow category effectively limiting it even more, especially when we’re telling the journey of a character whose problems can’t be told or resolved through the love story. By making the romance the main part of the book, everything else suffers. Worse, in a story with so many conflicts, but with a pretty easygoing romance whose conflict isn’t that hard to resolve, there’s need to include external circumstances to cause trouble, and we end up with one of the most Soap Opera things that ever happened*.
The sex doesn’t help either, because the first half of the book is sweet and has a young and naïve quality to it that made the explicit sex scenes jarring and out of place. It’s not that I’m against sex in NA or even explicit sex**, but it has to fit the tone of the story. In this case it felt like, once again, it was crossing items off the Imaginary Checklist of Things New Adult Should Have. That checklist needs to go if the category wants to survive and grow to its full potential.
I enjoyed the book and pretty much read it all in one night. Ms. Daniels is very talented and knows how to portray honest emotion. I was engrossed by the story, but there were many intrusive elements that took me out of it. It has just as many compelling elements, though, like a sweet hero and a villain that isn’t really a villain and will be the next book’s heroine. And so, I still recommend it despite the fact that I wasn’t entirely happy with it.
* SPOILER: Dylan can’t break up with the sister because she gets cancer (or a cancer scare). It’s adding contrive melodrama that’s as far from organic as it gets and pretty much ruins the flow of an otherwise pretty good book. Also, cancer shouldn't be a plot device. END OF SPOILER.
** Actually, I am a bit against explicit sex in NA, because A. 90% of the time isn’t necessary and B. I still think NA shares an audience with YA (and comes from YA), and although I’m not against sex in YA, explicit sex is a bit trickier. Also, it angers me when people say that NA is nothing but Erotic YA, and I wish I could strongly say: NO, it’s not.
One night they can't forget...
Tess McMann lives her life according to the secrets she's sworn to keep: the father who won't acknowledge her, the sister who doesn't know she exists, and the mother who's content playing mistress to a prominent businessman. When she meets the distractingly cute Dylan Kingsley at a prestigious summer program and falls in love, Tess allows herself to imagine a life beyond these secrets. But when summer ends, so does their relationship -- Dylan heads off to Canton College while Tess enrolls at the state university.
One love they can't ignore...
Two years later, a scholarship brings Tess to Canton and back into Dylan's life. Their attraction is as strong as ever, but Dylan has a girlfriend…who also happens to be Tess's legitimate half-sister. Tess refuses to follow in her mother's footsteps, which leaves her only one choice: break the rules she’s always followed, or allow Dylan to slip away for a second time.
...And only one chance to get things right.One and Only by Viv Daniels
Viv Daniels. November 8, 2013