keeperThe Start of Me and You by Emery Lord
Release Date: March 31, 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Source: Library
Rating: starstarstarstarstar
Buy It: Amazon | IndieBound

It’s been a year since it happened—when Paige Hancock’s first boyfriend died in an accident. After shutting out the world for two years, Paige is finally ready for a second chance at high school . . . and she has a plan. First: Get her old crush, Ryan Chase, to date her—the perfect way to convince everyone she’s back to normal. Next: Join a club—simple, it’s high school after all. But when Ryan’s sweet, nerdy cousin, Max, moves to town and recruits Paige for the Quiz Bowl team (of all things!) her perfect plan is thrown for a serious loop. Will Paige be able to face her fears and finally open herself up to the life she was meant to live? – Goodreads

There was once a time in my life that I avoided this kind of YA like the plague. I don’t even remember what happened to change that, but I’m glad it did. This book, though. I read it because it deals with loss, and I regretted reading it for the same reason. Loss and grief and guilt took over my life a little over 18 months ago, and though I think I’m myself again, or as much of myself as I can be now, the grief still sits there under my skin, waiting to boil over and consume me. Paige knew Aaron for a very short time, and she’s been grieving for only a little over a year, but everything she says still rings true. “The Look,” how people look at her and see Aaron, how when you’re at the beginning you don’t think you’ll ever feel anything other than this uncontrollable sadness ever again, even the fear that comes with the realization that you are still here. You really do have to give yourself permission to become a person again, to enjoy life and other people again. The big differences were what made this book so enjoyable though: Paige is still a teenager, she has so much left to accomplish, and she still approaches things with a teenager-like innocence. I wrote off Ryan Chase almost immediately, reading between the lines of not only the summary but the narrative itself. The only problem I have with YA now is that I’m impatient for them to just figure it all out, like I can somehow project my 30+ years of knowledge of boys onto them. Don’t be so shy! Don’t you understand that your “weird encounter” was meaningful? He’s just not that into you! Alas, as with in-the-flesh teenagers, you have to let them make their own mistakes.

I rooted for Max from the start. I’m always wary of popular boys in books, and even more so when they’ve just gotten out of a long-term relationship. Besides, who doesn’t want a guy who can argue the finer points of Jane Austen with you? That can’t just be me, can it? I got kind of mad at Paige for how she saw him. What’s wrong with a kid who builds model airplanes during recess? I think maybe part of it was getting that early glimpse of Max’s mom and wondering what it must have been like for her to have a son who had such a hard time with his peers. As a parent, you don’t want your child to go through any kind of pain, especially if you can’t stop it or explain it away. Has becoming a parent ruined me for YA? I really hope not. But really, I spent a lot of the time wondering where I can get my own Max Watson, or how I can raise my own son to be a Max Watson.

I’m having a hard time articulating my feelings about this book. I have been through what Paige has been through, not an accident, but a death all the same, and it changed me and my life. And yet, at the same time, it didn’t change me. Paige and I are the same at our centers, though a storm rages around us. What I appreciated most about this book was the clear (and very true) portrayal of grief, and how Paige’s friends rallied around her. I swooned when Max called her “a Jane,” and when the big reveal happened at the end, I sobbed. Like truly sobbed. This book is so not me, but it ended up being exactly what I was looking for.