My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Paul lives in a perfect town, has the perfect family and the perfect friends. He’s liked by everyone. At fifteen, he already knows and is confident about who he is. His character flaws, if they are even that (this I’m still not sure of if he’s genuinely a person who cares about people he’s emotionally invested in too much or it just turned out that way because he was dealing with his ex/’The One That Got Away’), are positive. Guys fall in love with him. Even when events in the book looked like they weren’t perfect, it was still perfect–he doesn’t have much problems to face except falling in love and growing up. Even their town cemetery is perfect–each tombstone has a box with a book in it that people can write in to leave messages or interesting things their loved ones would like; it’s a cathartic way of helping deal with loss, and later as a way to remember people who’ve gone. I was halfway in the book (pre-cemetery visit), and already thinking, SCARY UTOPIAN SOCIETY. SCARY UTOPIAN SOCIETY. Did I just get dropped into an upgraded gender-perfect version of Ira Levin’s book?
Things start becoming less perfect in Paul’s world when he meets Noah. He starts falling in love. Joni, his best friend for ten years, starts going out with a douche–a guy who fell for and got rejected by one of their friends before. Cue lots of drama before the friendship break-up. Whether Joni and Paul become friends again is left unresolved–some hope for it is given in the end when Joni shows up for a critical event but no firm resolution is given. Although cliché, I did like this storyline as it delved into Paul’s feelings of losing a friendship, something we all go through at that age, and something most YA books don’t go emotionally and philosophically into.
The only way Paul gets exposed to a semblance of the real world (by this, I mean a place where everything isn’t perfect) is through his friend Tony–who is your regular loyal teen gay Christian boy with strict dogma believers for parents. The thing that bothers me about it is Paul doesn’t actually realize the extent of how hard it is to be in Tony’s situation. All the while he has the sympathetic detachment of a friend who knows Tony’s parents are strict and don’t accept him but did not truly understand what it’s like to be in the situation. That’s how perfect Paul’s world is. And that is how he learns a lot of empathy–at least, for that situation
And then there’s Noah. I really liked Noah’s character and and their relationship–even with the up and down (Paul kissing ex-boyfriend Kyle in his hour of emotional need) (also, yes, up and down is singular because frankly, with Tony and Joni drama, there wasn’t any more room for other couple-centric drama to happen) it faced. I guess it amuses me to some end, because out of all the YA books out there, the way Paul wooed Noah back is extremely romantic, novel, over the top, yet still somehow not cheesy. Move over Michael Moscovitz with Snowflake necklace. Paul is it. And Noah’s way of giving back was amazing (I actually prefer his to Paul’s).
This is a good book, if you like teen romance and drama, and aren’t afraid to be in a perfect society for most of the book. I prefer my readings to be a little more grounded in reality–whether if it’s the society itself that is flawed (and thus feels real, even if it’s in Oz or Hogwarts) or the characters themselves (even if she is a Princess of Genovia, Mia is still a sarcastic, insecure teen and neurotic basket case). Yes, the characters here made some bad choices but none are irreparable. And aside from Joni’s pig-headedness (still understandable because she’s in love), Paul’s cheating (because you will always have some feelings left for someone who left you), there wasn’t enough in the characters that didn’t make them less loveable, less perfect, more humanly-flawed. They’re a bit too perfect, a bit too loveable. Scary.