Monday, 7 May 2012

Where I Belong - Gwendolyn Heasley


PROS: Protagonist goes through a realistic transformation and endears herself to the reader; novel has some hilarious moments in it; realistic open ending to the novel

CONS: Moral of the story is presented in a rather cheesy manner; questionable presentation of body image

Corrinne Corcoran returns from another successful shopping trip at Barney’s to hear the worst possible news from her parents: not only has her father lost his job, but the family’s entire savings have been embezzled. Her father has been fortunate enough to get another, less well-paid job, but it’s in Dubai and he can’t take the family with him. So Corrinne, her mother and her brother are being shipped off to their grandparents’ house in the tiny town of Broken Spoke, Texas. No more shopping sprees, no more credit cards, no elite boarding school and definitely no chances of hooking up with hot, rich upperclassmen. Instead, Corrinne will be spending her days in a town where there’s only two places to eat and nowhere to shop, where Rodeo Queens still reign and everyone cares about whether or not the high school football team wins the championship. As Corrinne adapts to sharing her bedroom with her mother, getting driving lessons from her estranged Grandpa and eating mountains of carb-filled pancakes every morning she slowly comes to appreciate some aspects of life in Broken Spoke. Kitsy, the perky cheerleader, becomes her friend and she hits it off with a hot wannabe rocker, Rider, when she starts working at the stables. But when Corrinne's old best friend, Waverly, plans a trip to Broken Spoke, Corrinne is forced to evaluate how much she truly enjoys her new life, and whether she wants to take any part of it with her when she eventually returns to her old life in New York.

I am honestly surprised by how much I enjoyed Gwendolyn’s debut novel. I usually preface my reviews of Young Adult books by saying something along the lines of “I'm not a teenager anymore, and I don’t normally enjoy teenage novels, so I may not be the best person to be reviewing this book”, but now I have to admit that, okay, maybe I have become a fan of Young Adult fiction. It’s been a long time since I used to eat up the latest Meg Cabot novel as soon as it was released, and maybe it was due to an overdose of teenage fiction that I swore off it when I was sixteen, but Where I Belong has seriously convinced me to give this genre another try.

This is yet another case of me being suckered in with a pretty cover. I saw that this book was selling for £1.99 on Kindle and decided to download a sample in case the book lived up to its gorgeous cover. I’m currently working my way through Oliver Twist and a surprisingly depressing Amish novel and definitely needed a light read, so when I found myself relaxing as I read the sample for Where I Belong I decided to take a chance on it. And I’m really glad I did. This book had me grinning away at the antics of Corrinne and her new friends in Texas. It was just what I needed at this time in my life.

I did find myself wondering whether or not I would have appreciated this book so much as a teenager. I’ve read some reviews from younger readers who got fed up with Corrinne’s ignorance and self-centred nature. But one of my favourite books as a teen was Legally Blonde purely because I found Elle's actions so hilarious, so considering that, I reckon that I would have enjoyed this book just as much as a teen. There were a few times when I found Corinne's comments a bit annoying - namely the remarks about her dress size (a fair few below mine, and I’m by no means fat) and her initial hatred of all foods that she deemed fattening (I am the Baking Queen in our house and addicted to pinning recipes on Pinterest) but other than that, I found her a very endearing character. For all her talks of drinking wine and staying out all night, she was still very innocent and naive. Sure, she knew her way around New York and could keep up with the “in” trends far better than anyone I know, but she didn’t truly understand how friendships and relationships and families worked until she moved to Texas. I enjoyed watching her character grow, and until she did mature, she was just utterly hilarious to read about. I never thought I’d enjoy reading about a rich, privileged teenage girl from Manhattan, but it happened!

Unlike some readers, I liked the open ending of the book. Perhaps some people would have liked more of a romantic conclusion, a confirmation that Corrinne was going to end up with the right guy and live happily ever after. But I found it quite nice that while Corrinne had grown as a character and developed over the course of the novel, the end of the book wasn’t the end of her growth. She’s still a teenager, after all. It’d be interesting to read the companion book about Kitsy and discover what happens to Corrinne after Broken Spoke.

I only have a couple of real gripes with this book. One of them was the scene in which Corrinne’s grandmother and mother recounted how they’d come to deal with their differences and reconcile with each other. I found it really cheesy and it didn’t seem at all realistic. Perhaps if they’d let their comments drip out little by little it would have worked, but it basically came across almost like a speech or a sermon, as if Corrinne was finally being told the big message of the entire book. The scene could have been a lot subtler and still made its point.

I also found some of the comments about dress sizes a bit disconcerting. If I remember rightly, Corrinne is a size 4 at the start of the novel, and she comments at the end of the book that she’s dropped a dress size due to all the work she’s been doing at the stables. I know that there are some women who are naturally stick-thin, but I didn’t like the idea of Corrinne’s weight loss coinciding with her finding contentment. To some readers, this might give the wrong impression and suggest that Corrinne’s happiness was linked to her unnecessary weight loss. In fact, I don’t think it’s entirely natural for someone of Corrinne's age to be dropping sizes. Teenagers are constantly growing, and it would be more realistic for Corrinne to go up a size. I don’t know many women who stayed a size 2 after they hit puberty, so Corrinne’s dress size isn’t exactly representative of most teenage bodies.

Aside from the slightly cheesy scene with Corrinne’s mother and grandmother and the questionable presentations of body image, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I've now joined the ranks of grown women who read Young Adult novels, and will definitely be seeking out more books in a similar vein to Where I Belong. If Gwendolyn can make me enjoy reading about a stuck-up teenage fashionista then I have high hopes for her next book, A Long Way from You, which is about the adorable Kitsy attending art school. If you’re tempted by this beautiful cover and not typically a reader of Young Adult novels, I would encourage you to give this book a try. Where I Belong is the perfect relaxing, feel-good read...and it may even make a Young Adult convert of you! If you’re already a fan of Young Adult fiction then I can’t see how you could be disappointed by this wonderful story.

Disclaimer: There was one instance of swearing in this novel and a couple of suggestions that Waverly was engaging in a sexual relationship. There were several instances of underage drinking, although Corrinne never seemed to have more than one drink at a time.

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