Thursday, January 11, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: This Is Not A Love Letter by Kim Purcell


Title: This Is Not A Love Letter
Author: Kim Purcell
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery
Pages: 368
Pub Date: January 30, 2018
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Book Source: Publisher sent for review
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars


Synopsis:  One week. That's all Jessie said. A one-week break to get some perspective before graduation, before she and her boyfriend, Chris, would have to make all the big, scary decisions about their future--decisions they had been fighting about for weeks.

Then, Chris vanishes. The police think he's run away, but Jessie doesn't believe it. Chris is popular and good-looking, about to head off to college on a full-ride baseball scholarship. And he disappeared while going for a run along the river--the same place where some boys from the rival high school beat him up just three weeks ago. Chris is one of the only black kids in a depressed paper mill town, and Jessie is terrified of what might have happened.

As the police are spurred to reluctant action, Jessie speaks up about the harassment Chris kept quiet about and the danger he could be in. But there are people in Jessie's town who don't like the story she tells, who are infuriated by the idea that a boy like Chris would be a target of violence. They smear Chris’s character and Jessie begins receiving frightening threats.

Every Friday since they started dating, Chris has written Jessie a love letter. Now Jessie is writing Chris a letter of her own to tell him everything that’s happening while he’s gone. As Jessie searches for answers, she must face her fears, her guilt, and a past more complicated than she would like to admit.
             - - - 
This Is Not A Love Letter was a great way to start off my year! I love mysteries. This book started the year off with a bang.

The book starts off with Chris already missing. He and Jessie are taking a “break” for one week to gain some perspective on their futures and their relationship. This was, of course, Jessie's idea. Chris wanted nothing to do with it. So, naturally, when Chris goes missing, Jessie thinks she may have scared him off by pushing him away.

When we first learn Chris is missing, Jessie has a theory immediately. Some kids from another school beat him up a few weeks prior and she is worried they may have done it again, only taken it much further. We follow Jessie throughout the investigation and see her constantly go back to these guys. Josh, Chris' best friend, has another theory. What if Chris jumped into the quarry? What if he took his own life? There are some signs pointing toward depression and possible suicide, but Jessie refuses to even think it.
“Please don't be in the river.”

“You're terrified of the river. I'm terrified of fire. You think I'd light myself on fire?”
Let's talk about characters.

Jessie is such a wonderful character. I adore her for the fact that she is realistic. She isn't perfectly beautiful and she isn't popular and doesn't have the perfect family. She also isn't a complete screw-up who deals with her pain via drugs or drinking. She is just a girl who wants to know what happened to her missing boyfriend. She is missing a father figure in her life. Her mother is a hoarder and extremely obese; she barely leaves her bedroom. Jessie struggles to help take care of the home along with going to school and applying to colleges. She is a good person but has her flaws—such as her temper, which we witness a few times in the story.

Chris is not present in the book in the current sense, but as Jessie narrates the story (directly to Chris, as this book is sort of one, long letter to Chris from Jessie) she reminiscences, if you will, about past moments with Chris. This was a great way for the reader to get to know Chris and how amazing he was. He was a stand-up kind of guy. He didn't like fighting and violence. He was honest, kind, and loving. He was part of a Jehovah's Witness family, which he struggled with a bit, and had a younger sister who adored him. Chris' family was pretty close with Jessie, so we see quite a bit of them in the book. I think the author did a great job of showing us who Chris was so that we could really feel how sad it was that he was missing.

The mystery was done very well. I was questioning throughout the book who may have hurt Chris or taken him, or possibly what he had done himself, whether it be leave town or commit suicide. The book pointed in a few different directions, but in a good way. It wasn't messy or confusing, but very suspenseful.

This Is Not A Love Letter could definitely be considered a diverse book. There is a “gay-best-friend” type of character. Jessie works as a lifeguard at a local swimming pool and meets him there. He's close to her and painted in a good light. I enjoyed his character and he plays a significant part in the book. Jessie and Chris are also in an interracial relationship (Jessie being white, Chris being black). They struggle with this slightly, as some of their peers are judgemental. Chris struggles alone with his race as well. This being why those guys beat him up prior to the story beginning. They are privileged white boys and didn't like that a black kid was being scouted for a college team, etc.
“I don't blame you for wanting to leave.

This town was built on racism...”
It is also rare to see a Jehovah's Witness family in YA (correct me if I am wrong). I think people assume they are all crazy, but this book shed a little light on how they actually think. It wasn't a highlight, but just a small hint of it. I think each of these diverse issues were written well and handled respectfully. 

The only real con I had was some of the grammar. I think the author tried to show how Jessie was a “lower-class” girl and didn't speak “properly” at times. For example, instead of saying “I have to go” she would say “I got to go” (I gotta go wouldn't have bugged me as much)... I honestly just found it to be an annoyance more than anything. Not a big deal, but worth mentioning.

Overall, this book was great! I think the story is relevant and I think the author really thought out the plot and executed it to perfection. I enjoyed the characters and their dynamics. I enjoyed the mystery and suspense. I think it was an all-around great read.

What happened to Chris, though? I won't spoil it, but you should check out the book to see for yourself! :)