because bibliophiles require refreshment

Has to Be Love by Jolene Perry

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Has to Be Love is a YA releasing in September and one worth putting on your list. Clara is an aspiring writer who lives in Knik, Alaska – which sounds to be in the middle of absolutely nowhere – with a dream of going to Columbia University. She has a lovely sounding boyfriend, Elias, a doting and supporting father and an apparently strong writing talent.

What she also has is a scarred face from the bear attack that took her mother’s life.

When the story opens, we find out quickly that Clara got early acceptance to Columbia but has told no one. Her plan is to defer for a year so that she has time to go to Seattle and get treatment for the scars from a doctor she read about on the internet. That’s the plan. The plan is perfect and the plan will work.

Well, what 17-year-old Clara doesn’t realize, but most readers do is that plans actually rarely work exactly that way and the complications to the plan she encounters are what drive this story.

Complication the first: Elias has plans that want to keep Clara in Knik and no idea that she wants to haul off for New York for four years. Complication the second: the doctor isn’t a miracle peddler and it looks like the scars are more permanent than she anticipated. And complication the third – the most significant: the new student teacher in Knik, Rhodes Kennedy.

Rhodes is finishing up his MFA at Columbia and appears to be a bit of a commitmentphobe – not only to relationships, but to life. He finishes degrees and that’s fantastic, but he never plants roots. Ever. He also doesn’t really appear to understand boundaries and I’ll just leave that comment there. Homeboy is still a child, even though he’s not and we all know people like that.

And here’s our Clara, stuck in all of these complications and has somehow convinced herself that she needs to talk to no one about it all. She shares somethings with Rhodes but not all, some things with her best friend, but not really that much. She’s decided the scars have made her a fully deficient human and that until she gets them fixed, emotional intimacy is off the table. I would imagine that’s not an unlikely reaction to getting mauled by a bear and loosing your mother in one foul swoop.

Another major aspect of this book is Clara’s Mormon faith. I would have liked this explored a little bit. The book reads like the author has a great knowledge of the Mormon religious system – and she may – but her readers probably don’t. I have degrees in religion and I was still having to Google some of the phrases. There was just a little too much assumption that people would know what this meant and how serious it was and how it really would affect how Clara made her decisions. If that had been explored more, this book would be much stronger for me. But, as I frequently say, we all come to books with different backgrounds and for different reasons. From a quick scan through this book’s page on NetGalley, few other readers were bothered by it like I was. Religion is my profession, so I twig with that stuff, in total fairness to Perry.

As it’s YA, Clara does find clarity and make decisions at the end of the book. It all ended a little abruptly for my taste, making the balance of the narrative a bit off, but when I was 15, this book would have been perfect. Even though it’s angsty, and angst normally requires whiskey for me, the Alaskan setting made me crave hot chocolate, so that’s the recommendation of the day for this book.

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Further Reading:

  • Bear Attack: NatGeo has a video of survival tips for people who find themselves alone with a bear. As a Baylor University graduate – a campus where our bear mascots are sometimes walked around campus on leashes – it’s a good reminder that bears are not snuggle buddies.
  • Sightseeing Glacier: At one point in the story, Clara’s dad flies her and Rhodes over a glacier. Yeah, that sounds like a bucket list item.
  • 10 Best Books about Alaska: This list from the Guardian is a good one to work through if this book gave you a bug for the tundra.

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I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

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