book review: Back When You Were Easier to Love by Emily Wing Smith
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Smith, Emily Wing. Back When You Were Easier to Love. Dutton Juvenile; April 28, 2011.
Similar books: ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins; THE WAY HE LIVED by Emily Wing Smith; Sarah Dessen books.
WHO ZAN IS: Blow-your-mind brilliant, stop-your-heart gorgeous, hold-your-breath clever
WHO ZAN WAS: Joy’s boyfriend.
WHY JOY NEEDS HIM BACK: So she can breathe again.
WHAT THAT MEANS: An elaborate road trip involving a SAAB 900, Sprite, and Barry Manilow. Oh, and Noah, Zan’s irritating-but-almost-charming ex-best friend.
What’s worse than getting dumped? Not even knowing if you’ve been dumped. Joy got no goodbye, and certainly no explanation when Zan–the love of her life and the only good thing about stifling, backward Haven, Utah–unceremoniously and unexpectedly left for college a year early. Joy needs closure almost as much as she needs Zan, so she heads for California, and Zan, riding shotgun beside Zan’s former-best-friend Noah.
The first time I knew I was really, truly, from-the-depths-of-my-soul in love with Alexander Kirchendorf was the night of our first kiss–the night he called me His Joy.
Prom night and we were rocking on the old-fashioned porch swing outside my house. We had been discussing something, I don’t remember what, when we both stopped talking and stopped listening. I remember thinking: he is going to kiss you now, move in closer, move–but being frozen with fright and delight. We both sat there, suspended in something much thicker than silence, for what seemed like a thousand hours. He touched my face, my lips. He whispered to me: “My Joy.” And maybe it wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough for me, and when I let him kiss me I knew that this was the man I wanted to spend eternity with.
So what happens when the first guy you fall in love with is the wrong one? That is the question explored in this incredible coming of age story by Emily Wing Smith. The complexly woven narrative gives insights into a girl who has lost herself in a relationship, and when she finds herself boyfriend-less she has to rediscover her identity. The book is constructed by chapters of the present and flashbacks before, so we can see Joy’s life both then and now, with each chapter giving the reader a piece of who Joy is.
But the best thing about this book isn’t Alexander Kirchendorf–also known as Zan. It’s his ex-best friend Noah, who is beyond charming. As much as people talked about St. Claire (from ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS) being their new literary crush, I have to argue that Noah blows him out of the water. Despite his human flaws, Noah is the all around good boy (in my mind, I kept comparing him to Clay Jensen from Jay Asher’s THIRTEEN REASONS WHY). You can see hints that Noah’s liked Joy from the beginning, but he completely won me when he shows up last minute at Joy’s house to take her to homecoming. And Joy–being Joy–refuses since she hates dances, so instead they hang out at her house. But I just adored how their relationship starts out awkward and oh-so-cute, and then builds so naturally. And unlike other teen romances, their relationship is built solidly on respect and unselfishness and mutual admiration.
Add that to the fact that part of it takes place in Utah (my lovely home state!), part in California with a sprinkling of Las Vegas in there, and you have one excellent road trip of discovery. Each location was detailed enough, that it was like I was on the road trip right with the two.
The only issue I had with this book at all was that the protagonist, Joy, has such a negative view about the Utah culture at the beginning. I kept finding myself thinking: I really enjoy that about living in Utah . . . I’d assumed (correctly) that it was all part of the character development, which makes the pivotal change in the novel that much better. So if you’re looking for a light romance filled with personal discovery (and a cute boy named Noah), I strongly recommend this book.
Reader Age: 12+ I found this book very clean, and would give it a PG rating. **spoilers** A boy and girl have to take a hotel for a night, but they don’t sleep in the same bed. A boy is mentioned to be living with a girl. **end spoiler**