Tags: YA, road trip, family, death
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Sixteen-year-old Emma Healy has never felt like she belonged in her family full of professors, geniuses, and success stories. While her much older siblings went on to college and careers, Emma has kept to herself, dreaming of “normal” birthday parties and conversations that didn’t revolve around obscure literary figures.
Emma’s neighbor, Peter Finnigan, is a Civil War-obsessed nerd who wishes he had a family like the Healys. Instead, it’s just him and his cop father, forever separated and at odds by the taboo subject of Peter’s mother, who died giving birth to him. When Emma discovers a birth and death certificate for a twin brother she never knew she once had, it’s as if she suddenly feels complete. This discovery leads Emma and Peter to take a road trip from New York State to North Carolina to visit Emma’s brother’s grave, but what they discover is not grief and loneliness, but rather togetherness in all senses of the word.
Jennifer Smith certainly knows how to write. Her narrative reads like one of those twelve-page character description exercises that writers occasionally do in order to get to fully know their characters. At the end of the book, we know Emma and Peter inside out. Neither one is without flaws, but all of their complexities, worries, passions, and dialogue simply sing through the pages. Jennifer is in real command of the language here.
I think that the book’s weak point, the one thing that made me not like the book as much as I would’ve wanted to like it, was its plot. Road trips are a pretty common plot in YA lit, and so it’s hard to redo the age-old plot without falling into a rut. Emma and Peter’s road trip, while completely realistic, with things such as the New Jersey Turnpike and the Gettysburg battlefield described in a mesmerizing yet straightforward and thus believable way, was also unfortunately not very exciting or engaging.
They pick up a stray dog who never gets a name, they visit a bunch of random places and have conversations that sometimes run deep and sometimes turn into arguments…these are all nice things to think about, because they happen in everyone’s lives, but when these incidents and family flashbacks make up the majority of the novel, something gets lost. Never mind the fact that this book has a strong message: family is not just about similarities, but also about staying together despite the differences. It’s a great message…provided you don’t get lost along the way.
I also wasn’t much a fan of the Emma-and-Peter romantic coupling. I felt like I knew it was going to happen, and yet while reading the book I REALLY didn’t want it to, I wanted the book to break the stereotypes of boy-girl get-togethers at the end of the novel, but alas. Maybe I didn’t get a clear image of Emma and Peter as compatible human beings. They are great as individuals, yes, but together? I need more convincing.
Overall, however, YOU ARE HERE is far from being a bad and unenjoyable book. Jennifer Smith is definitely a strong writer whose talent deserves to get noticed. Readers who enjoy character-driven books will like YOU ARE HERE, and for those of us looking for a faster-paced read, well, you’re going to have to wait for another book.
Susane Colasanti (When It Happens)
Catherine Ryan Hyde (Becoming Chloe)
Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Cover discussion: 3 out of 5 - You can't see it from the image above, but the blue background is actually semi-transparent, so that you can see the vague likeness of a road map beneath. It's this subtle layering of images that I love. Other than that, however, I'm ambivalent. The car in the book is YELLOW, anyway, not blue. The model's windswept hair is pretty, though.