Siblings Riley and Aidan Gordon are survivors. Together, they survived an abusive childhood, and when a fiery accident incinerates all they have—except for each other—they survive that, too. The tragedy leaves them with burdens and pain beyond their years, but it also sets them free to forge their own paths. Aidan’s road to happiness seems smooth and carefree. But Riley continues to struggle, her only saving grace being a passion for music that helps soothe her damaged soul. As their paths diverge and college looms, Riley will have to depend less on Aidan and more on herself. Fear of failure drives her, but will finding love derail her single-minded determination to succeed, or will it open the door to the family she’s always wanted?
When she was little, Riley and her brother Aidan lost their parents in an oil refinery explosion. From there, their lives were pretty much nothing but downs. Their aunt and uncle mistreated them, everyone in the group home they lived in through high school hated Riley, etc etc etc.
This is about where I started having problems with it. Riley isn’t that compelling of a character, and she actually has a pretty bad mean streak. Not the ‘she’s traumatized and has a hard time controlling her emotions,’ kind, though. She, and pretty much everyone in the book, suffer from what I like to call Not Like Other Girls Syndrome. Phrases like “They’re so shallow” or “They look so generic” followed by “But we’re great!” are pretty common, from Riley, Aidan, and all their friends. It’s treated like it’s a good thing, that she’s looking down on girls that she doesn’t even know and probably don’t care about her.
It also felt incredibly over-dramatic. I’ve heard of mean girls, but the way she’s treated through the entire novel just felt like all the author could think of for conflict for most of the book was making Riley suffer at the hands of mean girls as much as possible. There’s not much sympathy to be had for her, either, because a great deal of the book is done in summary, saying ‘this happened and then this happened’ rather than actually playing out the events. We’re told a whole lot (including about characters, how they supposedly act etc) but we never see it.
I don’t know a whole lot about the subject matter either, but I have a feeling there wasn’t much research done into group homes and the foster care system, either. I just felt like in the real world, even with the horror stories about the foster care system, Riley and Aidan would’ve been handled a lot better. With Riley’s constant nightmares and panic attacks, she would’ve been sent to therapy a lot sooner than she was (she’s pretty much forced into it near the end of the book). The book also erroneously said Riley had night terrors, when she really just had nightmares that were often followed by panic attacks.
The romance was probably one of the better features of the book, but it didn’t really redeem it. Both of the girls Riley’s interested in have the Not Like Other Girls Syndrome that I mentioned earlier, which pretty much turned me off to the idea of either of them, if they feel like the only way to compliment someone is to put down others.
Finally, although this is the first thing that made me flinch, it has a Twilight prologue. By that I mean it has a prologue that’s literally just copy-pasting part of the climax of the story. I haven’t seen one of those in a while, so I thought the trend was over. I personally find Twilight prologues sloppy and a cheap way to try to drum up drama.
I really wanted to like this book, but I’m one of those people that doesn’t feel like bad representation is better than no representation at all. I’d give this one a pass.