I am convinced that me from the past was kind of an idiot, but I can’t deny that being 20 was lots of fun. Everything at 20 is intense and hopeful and can change at any time.
Unfortunately, the opinions of my 20 year old self, untempered by any real life experience or hardship, were not nearly as interesting or important as I thought they were at the time.
The beauty of fiction is that it can condense down to the actual interesting parts and filter out any drama-inducing analysis of 30 second conversations. I’m enjoying the New Adult genre – romance centered on college-age protagonists – with a tinge of nostalgia. And a few hours of college nostalgia is just about perfect.
Haley, the heroine of Stay with Me, has had a bit more life experience than your average college freshman. A former child pop/movie star, she has turned her back on her career and her pushy stage mom (I pictured Mama Lohan) and decided to attend a small, rural college in Vermont. There’s a lot to like about Haley: she’s aware of her advantages, eager to leave all the detritus of being famous behind (except for maybe the designer clothes), cautious but open. When a professor accuses her expecting her fame to cover over shoddy work, she finds a tutor, not a free pass.
And she meets Caleb, a small town, local guy with a big circle of friends. Caleb is smart, handsome, and understanding. Caleb is … generically awesome. He also has a sister who becomes Haley’s best friend.
The tension in the story hinges on Haley’s last secret, which she expects her mother to spill at any minute in order to try to bring Haley back to the world she abandoned. It was mentioned so often that I expected the reveal to be anticlimactic, but it was as much as a shocker as promised, but (this being a romance) didn’t bring about the end of the world Haley predicted.
As much as the story is a romance, though, it’s really about Haley finding her place in the rest of the world. I spent the whole first half wishing that Lindsay/Amanda/Miley/etc. had decided to go to college in small, rural Vermont towns, and the last half just rooting for Haley.
Despite the fact that Caleb (and his friends and family) are all a little too perfect, this was a pleasure to read. It was like a mid-nineties era rom-com, and I consider that a compliment.
And the final thing I love about New Adult: the story doesn’t have to end with a big wedding or promises of forever and ever. Just because your first big love isn’t destined to be your last doesn’t mean it isn’t special.
The best bit: it’s currently $1.99 through at least Saturday. So you should buy it right now.