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Monday, March 28, 2011

Sweet, Quirky Road-Trip Novel a Very Pleasant Surprise

(Image from Indiebound)

After reading The Way He Lived, Emily Wing Smith's debut novel, I figured I kind of knew where the plot of her newest was going to take me. And I wasn't sure I wanted to go there. Even in a Saab 900 with a nice, clean cut Mormon boy. But, there were so many reasons to give Back When You Were Easier to Love (available April 28, 2011) a try - the cute cover; the fun, road trip story; the skillful wordcraft evident in Smith's first book; Smith, herself, who is so sweet and genuine; and, of course, Barry Manilow. So I did give it a try and, let me tell you, I'm so glad I did. The book surprised me in all kinds of pleasant ways. It's sweet, but not saccharine; fun, but not silly; upbeat, but not fluffy; and overall, just a thoughtful, quirky, life-affirming story. Have I mentioned how much I loved it?

The story goes a little something like this: Joy Afterclien, a 17-year-old high school senior, can't stand life without her boyfriend. Even though it feels like Zan died, he didn't. He just left Haven, Utah, for a college in California. Without explaining himself, without saying goodbye, without taking Joy with him. Zan was the one who made living in Utah, with all its churches, Modest is Hottest t-shirts, and "überconservative nutjobs" (50) bearable. Without Zan to laugh about it all with her, Joy's afraid she'll lose her edge, get sucked into the bland, conformist Havenite culture.

Obsessing over Zan's reasons for leaving is making Joy crazy. She has to have closure. She has to see Zan. A road trip with Zan's best friend (who's such a Havenite she can barely stand to look at him) isn't exactly what Joy had in mind, but, as means-to-ends go, it could be a lot worse. As Noah and Joy travel the 664.08 miles to California in Noah's Saab 900, Joy is forced to examine what she believes, what she knows, and a few things she might have missed completely. The trek, which begins as a simple road trip, soon becomes a journey of self-discovery, one that leads to some very surprising truths in some very surprising places.

You might have to be a Mormon from Utah to fully appreciate Back When You Were Easier to Love, but anyone can enjoy it. It's a story for anyone who's ever felt out of place, trapped by other people's perceptions, or stifled by what they're supposed to believe. It's a story for anyone who's not sure what they believe, or what is actually true, or even who they are. In other words, a story for all of us. I may have mentioned this before, but I adore it. Absolutely adore it.

(Readalikes: A little bit like Taken By Storm by Angela Morrison)

Grade: B+

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for mild language (no F-bombs) and some sexual references/innuendo

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Back When You Were Easier to Love from the author and the generous folks at Dutton. Thank you!


  1. Keep ahold of that ARC! I'd like to read this one, and I bet I know 2 or 3 people to pass it on to after I'm done. Unless, of course, you're saving it for someone else.

    Hope your family is well - we haven't seen you in so long. We should get together sometime in the next month. What's your schedule looking like?

  2. tarable--she's saving it for ME! :)

  3. Sorry, Tara, I am sending the ARC to Robin. However, I am not GIVING it to her, so eventually it will make it back to Arizona. When it does, I'll make sure you get a peek at it! And, yes, we do need to get together - I'll send you an email or FB message.

    Robin - You will get it ... eventually. Sorry I'm so slow.

  4. So I bought this book and stopped half way thru because Joy drove me crazy. She was worse than Bella to me and thats saying a lot. I lent the book to my friend and she was not impressed with her either. Maybe I did not get it because I have never lived in Utah???


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