Book Review: OPEN ROAD SUMMER (2014) by Emery Lord
Updated: Jan 6
As I inevitably find myself coming back to YA Fiction, enjoy my spoiler-free review on Emery Lord's debut novel about love, friendship, and the open road.
Dee and Reagan have been friends forever, even through the awkward stage of adolescence, the thrill of falling in love, and the agony of picking up the pieces after heartbreak. Dee's celebrity status in the country music world--where she's known as the sweet, squeaky-clean Lilah Montgomery--doesn't keep her from being a real human with real emotions, especially after a nude photo scandal threatens her brand. What better way to handle the crisis then invite Matt Finch, teeny-bopper and former member of the Finch Four, on tour with her? Certainly rumors of their relationship will distract the media from a cleverly edited photo designed to make Dee look bad. But what if bad girl Reagan finds herself falling for Matt instead? With Dee's image at steak, and Reagan's tendency to put up walls, she does everything she can to push Matt away.
Dee and Reagan's friendship. As I mentioned in my last post, strong friendships are severely lacking in the YA world. Lord does a great job of showing how these girls really love each other. Not only that, but they can be silly with each other, be sassy with each other, and be honest with each other. To add to the realism, their relationship isn't always roses and rainbows. Sometimes they're too honest with each other, which causes lots of problems.
Matt. Matt is a VERY swoony love interest. Probably more mature than the average nineteen-year-old, but still three-dimensional. Despite being sweet and sensitive, he can handle Reagan and her tough-as-nails, often-off-putting attitude. His chemistry with Reagan is extremely well-done and compelling, too. Some moments in this book made me squeal.
The pacing. There's no shortage of juicy drama in this book. Lord does a great job of balancing dialogue and action.
Dee. Just as a character, I love her. She's convincingly sweet and innocent, but not in an unintelligent or obnoxious way; there's this purity about her that I find very refreshing, not to mention parts of her personality that are a pleasant surprise. I appreciate that Lord didn't put her in a box by making her a stereotypically fake-sweet Southern girl. She's got some pluck, and I love that. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that Dee has become one of my favorite characters in contemporary YA Fiction.
Creative Decisions that are arguably problematic: [somewhat spoilery]
Reagan. She's not very likable. The fact that she's the narrator makes her extra vulnerable to hate from readers. Consequently, most of the lukewarm or negative reviews on Goodreads complain that Reagan is intolerable, particularly because of her tendency to slut-shame other female characters. They point out that it's extremely ironic and hypocritical that she criticizes and judges other girls despite being one of those girls who dresses in a way that draws attention. This attitude is never something Lord dismisses or resolves by the end.
I agree with this analysis--to an extent. I don't think readers processed this deeply enough. First off, I have more grace with Reagan because I wrote a character very similar to her. Secondly, Reagan's hypocrisy is most likely a mindful choice by Lord to illustrate Reagan's negative self-perception. No one seems to remember that Reagan feels remorse over the decisions she's made; she's as critical of those girls as she is of herself.
That being said, I think Lord knew what she was doing. I think she knew she was writing an unlikable character at the risk of alienating readers. It's unfortunate that people misinterprete her. While I don't love Reagan the way I love Dee, I feel pretty neutral about Reagan. I do wish she had changed her attitude by the end, not even toward girls she felt threatened by, but just in general. I wish she'd softened up.
The ending. Without giving too much away, I go back and forth with the ending. On one hand, I think it was built on unnecessary drama that could have been resolved with a simple conversation. On the other hand, the characters are teenagers, and the protagonist is very broken and bound to blow things out of proportion, given her past. Even though I find the ending a little anticlimactic and cheesy, I can acknowledge that it probably didn't resonate with me because I'm not the target audience.
The cheese. The book is so cute, it's borderline cheesy and melodramatic throughout the whole thing--not just the ending. I have a pretty high tolerance for cheese, though, so I don't mind too much. Sorry Emery Lord; just because you preface your sentences with, "I know this is cheesy, but..", it doesn't make it any less cheesy! But that's okay. I'll forgive you.
My rating (out of five):
* * * *