Published by Walker Children's on April 15th, 2014
Genres: coming of age, contemporary, young adult
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After breaking up with her bad-news boyfriend, Reagan O’Neill is ready to leave her rebellious ways behind. . . and her best friend, country superstar Lilah Montgomery, is nursing a broken heart of her own. Fortunately, Lilah’s 24-city tour is about to kick off, offering a perfect opportunity for a girls-only summer of break-up ballads and healing hearts. But when Matt Finch joins the tour as its opening act, his boy-next-door charm proves difficult for Reagan to resist, despite her vow to live a drama-free existence. This summer, Reagan and Lilah will navigate the ups and downs of fame and friendship as they come to see that giving your heart to the right person is always a risk worth taking. A fresh new voice in contemporary romance, Emery Lord’s gorgeous writing hits all the right notes.
Everyone LOVES this book, and I always love a good contemporary. So when I saw this was on sale for super-cheap on Kindle a few weeks ago, I snatched it up reallllly quick. I was extremely excited to finally dig in after Lili recommended it to me this month. But I’m sad to say, this fell SO flat for me. While I loved the story itself and the side characters and just the atmosphere of road tripping and going on tour, the main character was absolutely horrible and that really colored how I felt about the book as a whole. I just could not enjoy it as thoroughly as I wanted to. I’m going to talk about the good things first, because there were plenty, and they’re what kept me going as I struggled through this book.
Open Road Summer is framed as a road trip story about two friends who are healing leftover pain from past romantic endeavors. Dee is a country mega-star not unlike a young Taylor Swift, and Reagan is her devoted best friend. I haven’t read a whole lot of novels about famous people, but the few I have read have always been from the famous person’s point of view, so it was interesting and fun to see the best friend’s version of things. And Reagan was a great friend. She was a permanent fixture at Dee’s side, no matter if it was romantic struggles, homesickness, or a scandalous photo – Reagan was there through it all. And Dee always did the same for her. Their lives are wildly different – Reagan is the “bad girl” and Dee is the opposite. This is another thing that I really liked; Open Road Summer gives the bad girl a chance to tell her own story.
I loved the touring and travel aspects of this book; these were the initial things that drew me to it in the first place. Since Reagan isn’t the celebrity, we’re not bogged down with business and planning details. Instead, we get to actually see some of the places they visit. We also get to see backstage, in the dressing rooms, the behind-the-scenes action. More fun than this though, were the little moments shared by Reagan and Dee between cities or after the shows. Not just heartfelt moments, but laugh-out-loud episodes, too.
Which brings me to the ship, which, despite myself, I ended up shipping. A lot of this has to do with the fact that Reagan and her love interest, Matt, were introduced as Reagan was being zipped into a suitcase. What comes after is equal parts sexual tension, banter, flirting, and subtext. Emery Lord was great at building up the tension of no, we can’t, but I really want to. I thought the balance of will they, won’t they was perfect – it didn’t derail the story at all and it kept me flipping the pages to finally get to The Scene. I loved the slow burn – the wait was totally worth it.
My thoughts were all sparks and honey and how a kiss like this can make you believe you’ve actually invented kissing right here and now, the first two people to discover the feeling of your lips against each other’s.
All these things – the friendship, the banter, the travel, the humor – were enough to keep me turning the pages. And without one major flaw, this could easily have been a 4 star book for me. But that’s just not possible with a main character like Reagan.
Reagan, like I said, was the bad girl. She has a history. She’s been through battles and she’s determined to come out on top and change her old ways, but without giving up who she truly is. She has a passion for photography and a fierce loyalty to her best friend that I admire and respect. She doesn’t apologize for her sass or her abrasiveness and she’s an open flirt. She isn’t afraid of her body or her sexuality. All of these things basically scream “BEKKA WILL LOVE THIS CHARACTER.” I love broken girls who are trying to patch themselves back together. I live for this type of character. So why do I hate Reagan so much? It’s simple. She is full of vile and toxic girl hate that remains unchallenged throughout the entire novel.
I have no less than a dozen bookmarked passages in which Reagan is mentally tearing apart some random girl she doesn’t even know. She literally hates every other female character she comes in contact with, no matter how brief, except for Dee. This is troubling enough, but worse is that she never changes at all about this and she’s hypocritical about it, too. She will tear down a girl for wearing tight or revealing clothing to a concert to see Matt play – she calls these girls skanks and “obvious” and even lazy in their attempts to attract Matt. And then in the same paragraph, she turns around to adjust her push up bra for maximum cleavage. Please don’t misunderstand – I am totally behind a girl maximizing her cleavage. But I can’t sit idly by while she viciously judges other girls for doing the exact same things.
I can understand a single passage of this, or maybe even more than that, if it’s just about the girls who throw themselves at her love interest. I get what it means to be a teenage girl and deal with the insecurities and petty jealousies that arise in romantic situations. But it was literally every. single. girl. The nurse at the doctor’s office was apparently pathetic for openly flirting with Matt (a grown man) while she’s in her 20s, but then Reagan (a teenager) went and openly flirted with the doctor who removed her cast not moments later. About one of Matt’s fans:
She’s compact and curvy, topped with round curls that must have taken some serious hot rollers. Her hair dye is probably called Goldenrod or Honeysuckle, but it’s actually the color of Aging Butter or Dry Cornbread.
Here’s another lovely glimpse into our main character’s mind:
There are a few girls in the front with shirts cut so low that they make my neckline look modest. Like, honestly – if Matt so much as glanced down he could probably see all the way to their bellybuttons. Some girls have no self-respect, and even though they can’t see me, I make a face of disgust. Case in point: if Matt and I were together, I’d have to put those girls in their places. And I really can’t afford another misdemeanor.
The hypocrisy that goes with all these statements (and trust me, there are plenty of them) is astounding. We are constantly told how gorgeous Reagan is, how she can have any guy, and it’s all because of her high heels, her low cut, tight shirts, her push up bras, and her tiny shorts. WHICH IS OKAY. But why does she have to tear down every other girl in the world? It’s actually an accomplishment to write a book that’s all about empowerment after abuse and the healing power of female friendship, and then pack it so full of girl hate.
Now, don’t even get me started on the plotberg. I have never been so disappointed in a book. View Spoiler »Reagan is childishly jealous of Matt’s best friend Corrine. Corrine comes to join them on tour after being brutally dumped by her serious, long-term boyfriend. From the moment Reagan sees a picture of Corrine, it’s the obvious vile hate that you’d expect and it only gets worse once she’s there with them. Reagan is convinced Corrine wants to steal Matt from her. I was so hopeful that Reagan would be wrong and this could be a learning experience for her when it comes to how she treats other girls. But nope. Nope nope nope. Instead, she walks in when Corrine is throwing herself on Matt and thus goes the next 50ish pages while Matt tries to apologize. It’s agonizing, not because it’s sad, but because you know where it’s going and it’s fucking boring already. « Hide Spoiler
Finally, the writing was mediocre, with the same phrases used multiple times on one page. Matt’s eyes are described as “the color of smoke,” “the color of blue jeans,” compared to the smoky mountains (green, in case you didn’t know), as “salt lake eyes,” and finally, compared to choppy waves. Not really sure what color this is. We are pounded over the head with the fact that Reagan is short and wears high heels. OVER AND OVER AGAIN. We get it. And finally, the first 50% of the book felt like an extremely long introduction to the characters, even as the plot was developing. Halfway through, and we’re still being told things about Dee instead of SHOWN.
I will probably try Emery Lord’s later novels. There was a lot of potential here in Open Road Summer. I mean, there had to have been if I kept reading even if I hated Reagan the way I did. I loved the side characters, I loved the friendship, and I loved the ship. So I’ll be on the lookout for more toxic girl vs girl hatred, but I’m optimistic that Lord’s later work will be better for me than this. I am happy to have read it though, because it’s so wildly popular, that at least I feel like I can be part of the discussion about this book now.