Release Date - November 8, 2016
Publisher Social Media - Twitter
Pages - 272 pages
My Rating - 3/5
**received from publisher for an honest review**
The last time Jess saw her father, she was a boy named Jeremy. Now she’s a high school graduate, soon to be on her way to art school. But first, Jess has some unfinished business with her dad. So she’s driving halfway across the country to his wedding. He happens to be marrying her mom’s ex-best friend. It’s not like Jess wasn’t invited; she was. She just told them she wasn’t coming. Surprise!Road trip stories are some of my favourite stories. There is so much potential for character development, reflection and self discovery. They also have an urgency built in - the ticking clock that generally comes with the final destination and the purpose of the road trip. Kristin Elizabeth Clark's crafts a novel where the road trip element worked, but some of the other elements didn't come together for me in quite the same way.
Luckily, Jess isn’t making this trip alone. Her best friend, Christophe—nicknamed Chunk—is joining her. Chunk has always been there for Jess, and he’s been especially supportive of her transition, which has recently been jump-started with hormone therapy.
Along the way from California to Chicago, Jess and Chunk will visit roadside attractions, make a new friend or two, and learn a few things about themselves—and each other—that call their true feelings about their relationship into question.
The idea of Jess needing to confront her dad and using the wedding, and subsequent, road trip as a means to do so added a nice tension to the story. Through flashbacks we see various stages of Jess' transition and the support she did (and did not) receive. The road trip and Jess' character arc should have come together seamlessly. It was all there, and a great set up to the story.
The characters themselves were also well crafted. Jess is easily relatable as most teens can relate to having issues with their parents. This is vital because Jess also happens to be self absorbed, and dismissive at times. Her character is in an excellent place to learn and grow as the story progresses, and while there is character growth, I wish it had been the central focus of the story. Christophe is a beyond supportive best friend who has his own issues. He was used as more than just a side character to Jess' story and that allowed us to have a connection with his character as well.
The transition elements of the story were well written. I read that the author has a daughter who, along with other trans individuals, inspired her to write this novel and it shows. The worries that Jess presents on the page felt like they came from experience. Jess deals with finding safe places to stay along the road trip route, her worry about passing and the clothes she should or should not wear, along with the mention of stubble. This all creates a very vivid character, but also ensures those like Jess will see themselves reflected within this story.
The only real issue, at least for me, was the fact that it didn't register with Jess that having the nickname Chunk might be upsetting for Christophe. It is established, quite plainly, in the text that she is someone with body issues that stem from her transition and gender dysphoria. It is almost like she is two characters sometime with her being oblivious to anyone outside herself, but also being incredibly aware. She, in theory, should be more conscious of body shaming as a result. The shock she exhibits when she made aware of this didn't feel natural to her character, even if she is shown to be highly self absorbed. Even though she is called out about her behaviour in in the text, it still felt like a small misstep in an otherwise well crafted read.
I do also wish we had spent more time exploring Jess and Christophe's connection and feelings for each other. I felt the novel established their friendship perfectly. It also explores the often messy reality of realizing you like your best friend as more than just a friend. What didn't feel explored was deciding to act on those feelings, and the complications that could arise. It felt like the story sped past a lot of the build up and as someone who likes to see the characters falling in love, this stood out to me.
This book simply feels not quite long enough to adequately deal with the issues brought forth with its text. Many of them are just touched upon briefly when it would have been more beneficial to have them represented on the page. A reveal is made about one of the characters sexuality and it is never properly expanded upon. The novel could have benefited from fleshing this aspect out, and it would have allowed more representation within the story. It is a shame that it didn't quite follow through where it could have.
A novel that is obviously close to the author's heart and it is one that definitely hits the right note in places but sadly falls short in others. It offers a love story, a story of embracing yourself, and a road trip all in one. It's filled with diverse characters and important themes that I wish had been explored a little more within these pages and ultimately just left me wanting more in general.