Regardless of the genre she chooses to tackle, Sarina Bowen’s superb storytelling prowess never fails to enthral, so it’s no surprise that her Young Adult debut would be something truly special. A perceptive coming-of-age tale that explores the complex entanglements of family, love, and identity on the verge of adulthood, this story felt like a breath of fresh air to me, capturing so vividly the highs and lows of a young woman’s search for truth and affection in the aftermath of a great loss. Some books are love at first read, and this was one of them for me.
My life in Florida is coming abruptly to an end, like a familiar song shut off right in the middle of the chorus.
After the sudden loss of her beloved mother, taken by illness well before her time, seventeen-year-old Rachel Kress finds herself alone in the world, her only lifeline being a father she’s only known through his Wikipedia page. A world-famous singer and songwriter known as Freddy Ricks, Frederick Richards’s only contact with his daughter for the entirety of her young life has ever been through a monthly cheque in the mail, but when he suddenly finds himself as her only living parent, he does not hesitate to finally embrace his long overdue responsibilities as a father. Seventeen years of never claiming her as his own, however, has left a deep mark on Rachel’s sense of self, part of her always wondering what made he so unworthy of his love for so long.
When you don’t meet your dad for seventeen years, a part of you believes that you’re the reason why. I used to wonder what was so wrong with me that he didn’t want to meet me. I still wonder it.
As Rachel prepares to embark on a new chapter in her life at a new boarding school, we watch father and daughter tiptoe around each other’s emotions, desperate for one another’s love, but too afraid to open up and address any lingering fears or doubts between them. Rachel’s inner turmoil is a sticky stew of anger, love, resentment, and hope. She is desperate to fill the empty space that the loss of her mother has left inside her, hiding her pain and anger from Frederick, and only showing him the ‘good girl’ that everyone expects her to be. But deep inside, she is scared, confused, eager to please just so that she would never feel abandoned again.
A little piece of me will always be sitting here on the bench outside school, wondering if today is the day he decides I’m not worth the trouble.
Romance does not take centre stage in this story, but Rachel’s openness and confidence in her love life create somewhat of a necessary juxtaposition to the uncertainty she feels in her relationship with her dad. While she continues to withhold so much of herself from Frederick, she gives her heart freely to the boy she is falling for, letting both her flaws and traits shine through. But as more and more details about her mother’s past slowly come to light, unexpectedly rewriting history and reshaping her perceptions, Rachel begins to understand better not only her parents, but herself, too.
My whole life I’d been trying to understand my missing father. And the whole time I hadn’t had the first clue about my mom.
This moving yet tender story encapsulates so perfectly the uncertainty of young adulthood and the complexities of love, loss, and family relationships at any age. Sarina Bowen delivers another beautifully written, richly textured novel that is unputdownable from the start, and one I can recommend with all my heart.
Music has always been my only connection to him. And in a weird way, he’s never let me down.