(Image from Barnes & Noble)
Five years ago, life changed irrevocably for 17-year-old Clara Fielding. A bear attacked her and her mother, leaving the latter dead and the former with vicious scars marring her face. Everyone in tiny Knick, Alaska, knows about the tragedy. Most of them don't even seem to notice Clara's disfigurement anymore. But Clara does. Not a day goes by that she doesn't think about everything the bear stole from her.
Clara knows she's safe in Knick—and that she could stay that way forever. She never has to leave her Alaskan village, never has to expose her scars to the outside world. Not if she doesn't want to. The question is, does she? With high school ending, she's got a decision to make: stay home and build a future with her amazing boyfriend, Elias, or swallow her fear and act on the acceptance letter she's just received from Columbia University. She knows she can't do both. If she goes to New York, she'll lose kind, hard-working Elias. If she stays, she'll forfeit the chance to study at her dream school. It's a no-win situation.
Enter Rhodes Kennedy, a 21-year-old Columbia student who's in Knick to teach at Clara's high school for a few months. In spite of herself, Clara can't help falling for her the world-wise Rhodes, who encourages her to break out of her comfort zone. In more ways than one. Before she knows it, she's putting it all on the line for the newcomer, who's challenging everything she believes in: the sanctity of her hometown, her future with Elias, the debilitating nature of her scars, and her Mormon faith. As her safe little world crumbles around her, Clara will have to decide what she really wants for her future. Does she have the courage to give up something good for the possibility of something great? Can she trample on the feelings of people she loves in order to pursue her own dreams? What does she really want to do with her life? And with whom? A tortured Clara will have to make some heart-rending, life-changing decisions before time runs out ...
Despite its fanciful cover, Has to Be Love by Jolene Perry is not some fluffy YA romance. It's got a bite to it. Clara is a good girl who's battling grief, fear, uncertainty, and raging hormones as she tries to make some very adult decisions. Her struggles with maintaining her religious standards—especially where it concerns her relationships with boys—will feel familiar to many teens. As will her oscillating feelings over doing the safe, expected thing vs. risking her own security to take on a bold and scary challenge. As authentic as Clara's problems seem, though, her constant obsession with her scars and the ways in which she's been victimized gets old fast. It often makes her appear self-absorbed rather than sympathetic, which annoyed me to no end. I have a few other complaints with Has to Be Love, but overall, I liked it. The novel, which tells a compelling story peppered with original elements, also preaches some good lessons without feeling like a sermon. Teens should find it both intriguing and relatable.
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for language (no F-bombs) and fairly graphic sensuality/sexual content that would be most appropriate for readers ages 16+
To the FTC, with love: Another library