Monday, February 21, 2011

Review — Where I Belong by Gwendolyn Heasley

Summary (via Goodreads): Meet Corrinne. She's living every girl's dream in New York City—shopping sprees at Barneys, open access to the best clubs and parties, and her own horse at the country club. Her perfect life is perfectly on track. At least it was. . . .

When Corrinne's father is laid off, her world suddenly falls apart. Instead of heading to boarding school, she's stripped of her credit cards and shipped off to the boonies of Texas to live with her grandparents. On her own in a big public school and forced to take a job shoveling manure, Corrinne is determined to get back to the life she's supposed to be living. She doesn't care who she stomps on in the process. But when Corrinne makes an unlikely friend and discovers a total hottie at work, she begins to wonder if her life B.R.—before the recession—was as perfect as it seemed.

Review: While I live in New York City, I’ve always kind of thought of myself as a country girl (okay, country-ish girl.  I’ve worked on a farm, showed horses in the county fair, slept on a bale of hay, but will still freak out if I see any kind of bug) and happen to love those “fish out of water” stories where a city girl is thrown into country life, so I was pretty excited to hear about Where I Belong.  When I first read the synopsis I thought Gossip Girl meets Friday Night Lights.  Blair Waldorf meets Tim Riggins?  Yes, please!

I was a little nervous when the first page was a letter “from” Corrinne basically telling the reader to stick with the story even if you find her incredibly annoying and vapid (which I did).  When the main character’s telling you to just keep reading even if you hate her it makes you think twice about even turning the page, but Corrinne does grow on you.  Somewhere in the middle of the story I forgot that she was exactly the kind of self-entitled, Upper East Side rich girl that I want to smack on the subway when she takes up the last seat in the car for her tiny, quivering dog.  It’s a subtle transition and before you know it you’re actually kind of rooting for Corrinne and empathizing with her.

Broken Spoke, Texas is slightly stereotypical, but it encapsulated small town life pretty well.  The townsfolk’s names though?  No.  Just no.  I could deal with Jenny Jo, Corrinne’s mom’s name.  But Kitsy?  Bubby?  I just cannot take a guy seriously as a romantic possibility with the name Bubby.  I’m sorry.  I just felt like it was laying the “folksy charm” a bit too much.  And I liked Bubby, I did.  Kitsy, too.  They just had very unfortunate names for such down-to-earth characters. 

While I think Heasley created a great setting in Broken Spoke and succeeded in the difficult task of making a spoiled socialite likable, the dialogue was a little clunky.  Corrinne and her best friend both had strange sayings I’ve never heard any New Yorker actually utter, like “aren’t you a Forthcoming Frances/Overreacting Ophelia/Scaredy Cat Susie.”  It just felt out of character and weird.  Same with uses of words like “whack.”  I thought that word died in the 90s.  Maybe I just hoped it did…

Heasley could have also easily turned this into a straight romance YA, but she kept Corrinne’s relationship with Bubby on the back burner in favor of her relationship with her mother, Kitsy and her best friend from NYC (whose name is escaping me…).  It was much more about Corrinne’s journey than falling in love for the first time.  Things aren’t tied up neatly at the end, but it works.  Like I said, you care more than Corrinne has changed than you do about any kind of concrete resolution.  Though, maybe I’m just a terrible cynic, Kitsy’s dreams of moving to NYC and becoming a makeup artist made me a bit sad because, with all she has stacked up against her, I wondered if she wouldn’t end up as she predicted in a candid moment to Corrinne (married right out of high school with kids soon after) or, worse, like her mother.  Heasley barely touched on the socioeconomic struggles of small town life, but it did make you think.

Overall, Where I Belong isn’t exactly Friday Night Lights (but what is?), but it’s cute, fun and made me itch for a trip outside of the city.  More YA needs to be set in small country towns and, more importantly, do it well.  Heasley had right balance of realism and a bit of idealized nostalgia.

Lit Snit Verdit: B

*I received this book from Around the World ARC tours

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