I know I mentioned this book before on the blog (my favorite YA Contemporary reads post), but I feel like there's so much more to say about it, that I can't just leave it at that. I'm warning you though, this is going to be a long, gushy review. It's easy to get carried away when it comes to my favorite books. :D
by Jessica Park
Published: April 11th 2011Format: Kindle, 400 pages
Flat-Out Love is a warm and witty novel of family love and dysfunction, deep heartache and raw vulnerability, with a bit of mystery and one whopping, knock-you-to-your-knees romance.
Something is seriously off in the Watkins home. And Julie Seagle, college freshman, small-town Ohio transplant, and the newest resident of this Boston house, is determined to get to the bottom of it.
When Julie's off-campus housing falls through, her mother's old college roommate, Erin Watkins, invites her to move in. The parents, Erin and Roger, are welcoming, but emotionally distant and academically driven to eccentric extremes. The middle child, Matt, is an MIT tech geek with a sweet side ... and the social skills of a spool of USB cable. The youngest, Celeste, is a frighteningly bright but freakishly fastidious 13-year-old who hauls around a life-sized cardboard cutout of her oldest brother almost everywhere she goes.
And there's that oldest brother, Finn: funny, gorgeous, smart, sensitive, almost emotionally available. Geographically? Definitely unavailable. That's because Finn is traveling the world and surfacing only for random Facebook chats, e-mails, and status updates. Before long, through late-night exchanges of disembodied text, he begins to stir something tender and silly and maybe even a little bit sexy in Julie's suddenly lonesome soul.
To Julie, the emotionally scrambled members of the Watkins family add up to something that ... well ... doesn't quite add up. Not until she forces a buried secret to the surface, eliciting a dramatic confrontation that threatens to tear the fragile Watkins family apart, does she get her answer.
Flat-Out Love comes complete with emails, Facebook status updates, and instant messages.
So. A few weeks ago, I read this absolutely amazing book and I fell in love with it so hard, that I couldn't even write a review at the time. It was beautiful, raw, emotional, touching, powerful, suspenseful, realistic, psychological, inspirational and... well, simply put, mind blowing, and it got to me on a level I didn't think it could be possible. So I recommended it to my fellow readers (on Goodreads, Twitter, Pinterest etc), I wrote a short description on the blog, I put it in my all times favorite YA books shelf and called it a day. I MADE my friends read it (you're welcome;)), then we chatted and gushed and cried and laughed about it for hours and that was that. Except it wasn't. Because that story stayed with me, no matter how long it had been since I read it and no matter how many other awesome books I read in the meantime. I even found myself thinking about those characters and remembering random quotes every now and then (I'd see a nerdy T-shirt and think that Matt would definitely wear that, I'd read a funny Facebook status and think that Julie would write that, I'd see a gorgeous picture and think that Finn probably would have visited that place in one of his many travels etc). So I'd drop everything and read it again. And every time I read it, I fell in love with it all over again; I discovered new things about it, details and subtle meanings and thoughts that I missed the first time when I read it. Which brings me to this post and to my attempt to finally write a review (still not promising that it's going to be coherent and that it will make the book any justice).
I'm not going to get into details about the plot (anything I would say beside the goodreads synopsis would be spoiler-y).
When Julie moves into the Watkins house, they seem like the perfect rich family. But maybe a little too perfect. They are nice and welcoming, but there's something odd, cold, almost clinical about them. They are very intelligent and quirky, but too formal and kind of strange. The parents are distant and work all the time, Matt seems to be living in his own little geek world, Celeste is too fragile and unusual for a 13 years old girl and there's always this weird vibe when it comes to the big brother, Finn. Actually, he seems to be the only one who is normal and who has an active life, who is fun and carefree and they all look up to him. But the problem is that he's not there. Why? And what's the story of Flat Finn? Who carries around a life-sized cardboard (named, of course, Flat Finn) cutout of her brother, like it's a perfectly normal thing to do? Julie is caring, feisty, energetic and very persistent, so of course she wants to get to the bottom of this situation. Because whatever the Watkins' problem is, someone has to fix it and she seems to be perfect for the job.
Despite all their faults and mysteries, Julie picks up immediately and accommodates to the family. As time went on, she got closer to them and fit right in.
Erin stopped her.
“Julie? Thank you for being here. You make the house less lonely.”
Julie smiled. “I like it here. I really do. You and Roger are so good to me, and Matt and Celeste are like the siblings I never had.”
Julie and Celeste spend a lot of time together, which seems to be helpful for the young girl. Celeste is the most affected by Finn's being away, and that's why she doesn't have any friends, doesn't go out and spends most of the time talking about Finn and his travels or treating the cardboard as if it were an actual person. Not to mention that the only interaction with her big brother are on-line. But Julie enjoys her company and slowly starts to help her get out of her shell. If only she could make her ditch the weird cardboard and the crazy talk...
Matt is closer to her age. He is a MIT student and spends most of his time in front of the computer, but he's "easy to talk to, if not terribly easy on the eyes, and he was certainly smart and had a sense of humor". Actually, their easy banter and witty dialogue are some of my favorite parts of the book. Their funny, instant comebacks always put a smile on my face.
Julie turned her head to Matt. “You’re a double major? Physics and math? Jesus…”
“I know. Nerdy.” He shrugged.
“No, I’m impressed. I’m just surprised your brains fit in your head.”
“I was fitted with a specially designed compression filter that allows excessive information to lie dormant until I need to access it. It’s only the Beta version, so excuse any kinks that may appear. I really can’t be held responsible.
“Yeah?” he said distractedly.
“Let’s discuss your choice of attire for the evening.”
Matt hit the touchpad a few times. “Really? What aspects would you like to discuss?”
“Let’s discuss how lame it is.”
“That doesn’t sound like the opening of a discussion. It sounds like you’ve already made up your mind about how you feel, so I’m not sure what’s left to discuss.”
Julie rolled onto her side. “I’d like to hear the thought process you went through when selecting that shirt. Let’s face it, there are thousands of clothing options out there for you to choose from, and yet, despite many stylish shirts that could flatter you, you selected that one. So I’d like to hear what led to the purchase. Ready? Go.”
Matt backed his swivel chair from the desk and turned toward her, resting his palms on his knees. “The shirt says Geek. What’s to talk about?”
Aaand then there's Finn. They start to talk on-line and she feels a strong, instant connection with him, despite him being far away: "she didn’t know how to define what she felt. An attraction, a connection, an intensity. (...) Finn was funny and sweet and clever, and he wanted to know about her." They talked for hours, sent pictures, and even flirted "because it was harmless and fun, and truthfully, she just couldn’t help herself. There was something extraordinarily intoxicating about this Finn."
So Julie really starts to care about this family and wants to help them, especially Celeste. But every time she tries to bring up Finn or the teenage girl's problems, everyone tells her to stay out of it. Which, of course, only makes her push harder and dig deeper, because there's something serious and kind of freaky going on and no one seems to want to do anything about it.
Except... She eventually pushes too hard and everything, all the relationships she formed and even the fragile stability of the Watkins threatens to falls apart and everyone gets hurt in the process. Will she be able to fix things, before it's too late and she has to walk away alone and with a broken heart?
Julie has her own problems with her family (she's alone, in a big city and her father seems to always forget about her), so by helping the Watkins family, maybe she helps herself as well. She doesn't even realize how attached to them she's became and how much she relies on them. Celeste is like a sister, Matt is always there for her, making her feel safe and protected and she has a strong emotional connection (or maybe more?) with Finn, even though he's present just on-line. And that's when things begin to crumble. She can't (refuses to?) see the big picture, because she loses herself in the details: the late night chats with Finn and what he makes her feel, the parents ignorance and cold behavior, Matt's being too stubborn and overprotective when it comes to Celeste, her refusal to let go of Flat Finn, Finn's not wanting to come home... And yet, Finn seems to be the only anchor she can hold on to - but how long can that last, all things considered? How long until she finally gets the missing piece of the puzzle? And how would that change everything?
Finn is funny, cute, always knows what to say and seems to be into her as well. She can talk to him about anything, about the problems at home and she even gets tips on how to handle certain situations. But how much of that is real and how much of it is just something Julie wished it were real? Is he really that perfect or it's just easier to talk to him and to open up to him precisely because he's away of all the drama?
Julie: And I can’t resist asking: What’s up with your “Finn is God” Facebook name?
Finn: “Finn Is God” is my attempt to start a new religion. I’m working on a merchandise line now, because all good religions come with fashionable accessories. And I wanna be rich.
Julie: I’ll take a “Finn Is God” tote bag and a visor.
Finn was cute. Super cute. And funny, smart, and charming. And he adored his sister. And did amazing volunteer work in between adventurous travels. And…
Julie stopped herself. This was silly. She couldn’t possibly have a crush on someone she’d only exchanged a few messages with, right? Because that would be abnormal. Insane. Completely not based in reality.
The fact that he seems to genuinely care about her and to want to help her doesn't make things any easier or less confusing (he talked to her and helped her get through her panic attack when she got stuck in an elevator, which was a very heart-melting scene, btw):
Julie Seagle: Finn, I’m scared. The elevator is shaking.
Finn is God: I know you are, but I’ve got you. You’re not in the elevator, remember? You’re with me. I stand you up and try to push your body away from mine, reminding you that you are tightly strapped to me, and that I won’t let anything happen. It’s my job to control our jump and my job to pull the chute if you don’t. You’re safe. Tell me that you trust me.
*swoon* So, whatever this thing, this relationship, is, it's impossible not be affected and carried away.
But I really felt for Matt. He's incredibly sweet and, like I said, very protective of Celeste. He kind of put his life on hold to take care of her and to do his best to keep his family together (in his own weird way), but everyone takes him for granted. So, what happens when he reaches his limit and forces Julie to open her eyes and see what's right in front of her?
“ Celeste thinks you’re a hero. Don’t you see how she looks at you? She adores you.”
“Not the way she adores Finn. It’s different. I do the boring stuff. I get her to school, feed her, help her with homework, worry about her. I’m no Finn, that’s for sure. He’s never given a crap about real life. He cares about fun and horsing around. When my mother was away—that’s what we call it, away—Finn entertained Celeste, got her laughing, made her wild and free like him. I took care of what needed to be done, and he got all the credit. That’s how it’s always been.” *tear*
“I can always count on you, can’t I, Matty? You’re the best, and you’re very helpful. I love you.”
“Now I know you’re drunk.”
“Calm down, silly boy. Not like I love you-love you. I just love you. You’re so smart. Oh, you love me, too, and you know it.”
I really loved Julie as a main character. She has a great, adorable, energetic voice. She's witty, smart, and obviously has a big heart. She's stubborn, tenacious and she would try anything to bring equilibrium in the Watkins family, even if that means taking risks and pushing their limits.
Jessica Park's writing is original, beautiful, fun and very addictive. The whole novel is very well balanced: just when things get too intense, too strained, too emotional or too scary, some kind of hilarious situation comes up (usually a back-and-forth between Julie and Matt or something regarding Julie, Celeste and Flat Finn) and things loosen up for a bit.
I really enjoyed the humor, the dialogue, the "gut-wrenching, overpowering, crushing, fulfilling, complex, bring-you-to-your-knees" romance and there are so many layers, depths, nuances and actual life lessons in this story, that you can't not be touched by it. This is the kind of book that pulls at your heart strings and changes you; it makes you stop and think about life, about all the wonderful things you have and take for granted, about hope and moving on... In one word, it's perfect. Will I read it again? Absolutely! Will I keep pushing people to read it? You bet!;)
Oh, and a little teaser before the end:
Oh, and a little teaser before the end:
She couldn’t reach him fast enough.
[He] rushed forward and caught her as she flew into his arms. She wrapped her legs around his waist and her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly. (...)
“Julie.” There was nothing more wonderful than the way he said her name.
Of course it gets the extra golden star, 5 wouldn't be enough
P.S. Have I mentioned that New Adult is my new favorite genre? ♥