Book review: ‘So Much Closer’ by Susane Colasanti

Brooke Greene has always felt the rush of “knowing” — a sensation most akin to realizing the right thing to do . . . and when to do it. The summer before senior year, Brooke’s longtime crush divulges he’s moving to New York City, leaving Brooke without the luxury of keeping her feelings to herself any longer. Scott Abrams is the man she’s meant to be with . . . he just doesn’t see it — or her — yet.

Drastic times call for drastic measures. As Scott prepares to move, Brooke packs up life with her controlling mother in the New Jersey suburbs to join her estranged father, who happens to live and work in the city himself. Saying goodbye to her friends and former high school, Brooke arrives in the Big Apple with plans to convince Scott of their imminent romance — but ends up creating a whole new life.

Susane Colasanti’s latest young adult novel, So Much Closer, is built on an implausible set-up — that a 17-year-old girl would, after years of anger and not speaking to her father, pack up her world and move to a strange city for a dude. Oh, we’re told it’s not for him, of course — that it’s because Brooke, a certified genius, isn’t being challenged at school (love that old line). And that Brooke has “always” wanted to live in New York, so this just works out perfectly.

But, of course, it’s for a boy.

I didn’t dislike this one. Sitting at an airport last Thursday, I read three-fourths of the novel without taking a break. More than anything, So Much Closer is an ode to the city Colasanti herself calls home — and has dedicated her newest effort to praising. In her hands, New York City does come alive . . . right down to the skylines, hidden gardens and eclectic mix of residents. I loved that aspect of the book and found myself clinging to her descriptions of a place I find magical, too.

But aside from the city descriptions, I struggled with Brooke as a character. Many reviewers have already noted that, for someone we’re to believe is very intelligent, our narrator makes some pretty sketchy decisions — especially about school. After deciding that public education is pretty much without benefit, ramming ridiculous subjects down students’ throats and stifling creativity, Brooke decides to give up and make some sort of misguided point about “not participating” in a broken system.

Um, what?

Her best friend from Jersey, April, totally calls her out on her ridiculous behavior . . . and with the help of John, a student she begins to tutor, Brooke realizes the error of her ways. You know, that she can do more and should do more. And a “Dead Poet’s Society”-esque teacher swoops in to show that not all teachers are part of The Establishment. And so forth.

I didn’t quite get the allure of Scott, this guy who is supposedly so fantastic that he inspires Brooke to uproot her whole life for him . . . oh, and newsflash: looks like he might not even be available. The real scene-stealer here was John, the funny and erudite New Yorker who inspires Brooke to keep looking up. Whip-smart and interesting, John was definitely my type — another Marcus Flutie who grabs hold of the heartstrings.

Family issues were never fully developed. In some ways, I never emotionally connected with Brooke — or her divorced parents, characters I wish had been fleshed out beyond the background roles they occupied. But for all my  irritations here, So Much Closer was still a fast, pleasant read. Readers who enjoy young adult fiction, love stories and coming of age tales — especially those set in New York City — might enjoy Brooke’s journey from self-indulgent teen to one who peeks in at the bigger picture . . . and likes what she sees.

So Much Closer is due out May 3 from Viking.

3 out of 5!

ISBN: 0670012246 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program

Book review: ‘When It Happens’ by Susane Colasanti

After finishing Susane Colasanti’s When It Happens, something strange happened: I had an overwhelming urge to read my journals from high school. It’s no secret that I’m a diarist — I’ve written in a journal every day since my freshman year of high school, now giving me a solid ten years worth of recollections and ramblings. And reading Colasanti’s novel was just like taking a plunge back into my own high school memories — in a good way.

Those fresh, exciting feelings of first love — and of your high school sweetheart? All here. The confusion, turmoil and uncertainty about friendships, sex, family? Here too. In fact, Colasanti’s novel didn’t seem to be missing much in terms of easily placing us in the world of a suburban high school in New Jersey, and introducing us to two would-be lovers who struggle to own up to their feelings for one another — and not look foolish in the process.

Sara Tyler is a sophisticated, sassy senior known for her intelligence and dedication to getting into the best college possible. Watching her from afar is Tobey Beller, a consummate slacker student who spends his time plucking guitar strings instead of doing schoolwork. Tobey’s had his eye on Sara for a while and has decided that the start of their senior year is going to mean big changes in his world: namely, he’s going after the girl. But cue the big, dopey but smokin’ hot competition for Sara’s affection: Dave, a jock with one thing (and you know the thing!) on his mind.

When It Happens is Sara and Tobey’s sweet love story, looking at the ways in which they continually seem to miss opportunities to be together — or simply dodge them, afraid of their feelings. What I loved about the book was how realistically relationships were portrayed (complete with realistic dialogue), and the fact that Colasanti doesn’t just gloss over the difficult stuff or make the novel dissolve into a cheesetastic after-school special. Real problems and questions teens face are addressed, but they’re done so in a thoughtful way — and the novel never seemed to fall into the trappings of an author talking down to teens about why they should wait. I appreciated, too, that Colasanti recognized the importance of first love — and that it wasn’t reduced to something silly, or something to be mocked. It was obvious she believed what she was saying, so I believed it, too!

Tobey and Sara are, of course, the core characters of the novel, and I loved that we were able to watch their relationship grow — and that * SPOILER: the book didn’t just abruptly end when the guy finally gets the girl. It’s so frustrating when you’ve spent 300 pages waiting for a couple to be together if you don’t get to see them together — in fact, that’s a major pet peeve of mine — so I was relieved to watch their love story continue. *

A few gripes with the book? Characters other than Tobey and Sara were so on the periphery, I can’t even recall their names right now. They weren’t fleshed out or dimensional and seemed like mere stand-ins for “real” friends, people Colastani needed to provide comic relief or fill a role in the background — like Tobey’s best friend, a guy with terrible dating advice, for example. Sara and Tobey — and even Dave — felt authentic, and like people I could actually know, but no one else did.

And where the heck were these kids’ parents? Sara mentions that her mom had her as a teen and is, like, on boyfriend No. 76 (stereotypical, but I’ll let it slide), and Tobey’s parents don’t seem to mind that their son has a half-dressed young woman in his bedroom (um, seriously?). We never know much about them or even see them in the story; they’re always “working late” or just . . . out. That seemed a little too easy for me.

But overall? A sweet, fast read that I’m sure would be enjoyed by high school students — and their older counterparts. Just a little parental warning? Issues of intimacy do come up quite a bit in the book, though they’re always done tastefully, but if you’re squeamish about that sort of thing or would just rather the kiddos stay clear of the topic, I’d hold off on this one for a few years.

Oh! And Colasanti gets major points in my proverbial book for making not one but two references to John Mayer in When It Happens! Including a quote from one of his songs, “St. Patrick’s Day” — an underrated but fantastic tune off “Room For Squares”! Yes, friends, I’ve found an author who appreciates the genius of Mr. Mayer. If I were less of a book reviewer, I’d slap this one with a five-star rating based on that alone. (But you know I wouldn’t do that to y’all. So four stars it is.)

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0142411558 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor website
Personal copy obtained through BookMooch