“No matter how much time has passed, these things still affect us and the world we live in. If you don’t pay attention to the past, you’ll never understand the future. It’s all linked together.”
I’m so in my feelings about finally writing a review for this book! This has been my favorite Sarah Dessen title since the first time I picked it up, waaaay back in 2006. Her books introduced me to the YA contemporary genre, and this one has been dear to my heart for so long that I was a little bit afraid to reread it. This was probably my 12th reread, but it had been a while, so I’m happy to say that I still enjoyed every moment of it. ❤
Annabel used to have it all. She was a successful teen model, she hung out with the coolest girls in school, she went to all the best parties… everything was fine, until her sister developed anorexia and had to go to treatment; until modeling became less of a joy and more of a nightmare; until a party went wrong and her former best friend managed to convince everyone who mattered that Annabel was a relationship wrecker.
This book is full of characters that feel really authentic and genuine:
• There’s Annabel, whose biggest flaw is that she’s dishonest, because she hates confrontations and saying what she really feels. The entire plot of the book really wouldn’t even exist without her refusal to just speak up and say what’s on her mind, but we get to follow her as she grows and learns how to be honest and listen to her heart.
• Owen, the love interest, seems at first like your typical “bad boy”: he’s big and tall and brooding and a little bit scary because he has anger issues. Rumors abound that say he’s done hard time, he’s violent, etc. We learn pretty quickly that he’s not only a bit of a teddy bear, but he’s also really freaking geeky when it comes to music. Completely obsessed, and not with the death metal and rock that we’re led to expect, but with… chants? And techno? He’s an odd character in the best way and he’s easily my favorite part of the book, because his banter is so damn cute and he’s got a heart of gold.
• Whitney, Annabel’s middle sister, suffers with an eating disorder that manages to never feel like a prop, despite it being present only in a side character (instead of the narrator, as we usually see in YA). I was enthralled by how much effort Sarah puts into fleshing her out beyond just her disorder.
• Sophie, the former best friend, is one of my favorite portrayals of the “mean girl” trope, because she feels genuine. She’s got a troubled past to explain her behavior, and Annabel even relates stories from their friendship that offer insight into how Sophie’s behavior hurt her with just as many people as it helped her with – rather than just showing her as some sort of goddess that everyone in the school is unable to resist, which is a trope that I HATE in YA contemporaries.
There isn’t really anything to say on anyone else, but I do always love the fact that Sarah throws in a few characters from her other books here and there (I won’t tell you who cameos in this one – you’ll have to read it and see!).
There are a few different catalysts for action in this book (like Whitney’s ED, or Owen’s anger management issues, or Annabel’s modeling), but the most important and primary one is the trauma that happened to Annabel. We learn early on that Sophie hates Annabel over something that happened at the end of the previous school year, and with the way she constantly calls Annabel a “slut” or a “whore”, coupled with Annabel’s obvious symptoms of PTSD when she sees a certain male individual, it’s not hard to put two and two together.
In case you didn’t guess it early on, though, Sarah does take us through Annabel’s thought processes as she slowly comes to terms with what happened, and it climaxes in a chaotic memory of a party that she regretted ever going to. There’s a big scene that I wouldn’t call graphic, but will say it could be potentially triggering for abuse survivors.
That said, Sarah writes the entire plot arc beautifully. Annabel’s feelings felt so genuine and real and I related well enough to some of the things that she said and did, that I found myself wondering if Sarah writes from experience. I hope not, but we all know the statistics. On a happier note, we get to watch Annabel slowly heal, with the amazing support system she has in place.
FINAL VERDICT ➳➳
This may be partially nostalgia speaking here, but I love this book so much and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys YA contemporaries,especially if you’ve been considering trying out one of Sarah’s many well-acclaimed works and just don’t know where to start in her bibliography.
Content warnings: this book includes scenes of sexual assault, eating disorders, violence, and slut-shaming (from side characters).