Monday, July 9, 2012

Book Review: Perfect Escape, by Jennifer Brown

Brown, Jennifer. Perfect Escape. 352 p. 2012. Little, Brown. Hardcover $17.99. ISBN 9780316185578.

Having been riveted by Jennifer Brown's debut novel, Hate List, I thought it was high time to read another of her books, so I was excited to pick up the ARC of her upcoming title, Perfect Escape, while I was at ALA Annual.

The premise is compelling: Kendra is an overachieving, perfectionist who has lived in the shadow of her older brother's OCD all her life. When she gets caught cheating in her senior calculus class, she starts driving and doesn't look back-- with her brother an unwilling passenger. She believes she can get away from her troubles and "cure" his mental illness all in one shot.

Brown's writing is just as tight and engaging as I remember from Hate List, and while I enjoyed this book, I had a mixed reaction to it. The fact is, I'm the wrong audience. Teens will love the sense of escape with Kendra's impromptu road-trip, and they'll empathize with her "I made one mistake and now my life is ruined" thought process (I so remember that feeling!). On the other hand, I found Kendra to be frustratingly irresponsible and self-centered, which is by no means a criticism of Brown's writing-- on the contrary, she is a realistic and well-written character.

I'm reading as a mother. I kept thinking how selfish Kendra's actions were toward her family, and even more, I got completely hung up on a secondary plot point. Kendra and her brother come across a teen mom and her baby, and that section of the book had me SO WORRIED that the baby wasn't going to make it, I couldn't focus on the main storyline. I HAD TO KNOW WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN TO THAT BABY... to the point that it made me really uncomfortable. A teen reader would have an entirely different experience with that part of the book, so again, my comments are not a criticism. My issues are entirely my own!

All in all, I will definitely recommend this book to teens, especially those looking for a realistic, issue-driven book that keeps you hooked. Tension is sustained throughout the narrative as the reader wonders if Kendra and her brother will make it to their destination, or if they'll have to give up and turn around-- and what, exactly, was so terrible that it drove Kendra to run away in the first place.

Brown provides a thoughtful portrayal of OCD, and I feel I came away from the book with a better understanding of the disorder. Kendra's brother, Grayson, is a multi-dimensional character who struggles, but is not defined by his mental illness. Also, readers with siblings will appreciate the well-crafted, complex relationship depicted here-- sometimes tortured, sometimes affectionate, but always genuine.

Perfect Escape hits bookstore shelves on July 10th. ARC for review received from Little, Brown at ALA Annual.

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