Review: Love and Other Four-Letter Words

With her parents splitting up, 16-year-old Sammie Davis may not want to feel a thing, but feelings happen. For starters, she’s plenty angry. Her dad’s leaving their upstate New York home and moving clear across the country. Her mother—well, she’s packing up and relocating to New York City with Sammie, who has no say about any of it. Overnight Sammie is forced to deal with change. And one change spawns another: Roles get reversed, old and new friendships tested, and sexual feelings awakened. It’s a scary time. But as Sammie realizes that things can’t stay the same forever, that even the people she loves and trusts the most can disappoint her, she begins to accept that change isn’t always bad. It’s how you cope, jumbled feelings and all, that counts. And as she copes, Sammie’s sense of self emerges proud and strong.–From Goodreads

Love and Other Four-Letter Words is Carolyn Mackler’s first book, which I found all too apparent. There were a few things that I enjoyed about this book. Mackler’s authentic understanding of teen emotions rings true in Sammie, a young girl who learns to stand up for herself amidst the turmoil of her parents’ separation and her relocation from Ithaca to NYC. The charming dog subplot captured my interest more than any of the humans; I’m a sucker for canine cameos. I also enjoyed Mackler’s fluid language; the book was quick and light, which is just what I need at this hectic point in my life.

Unfortunately, though, I found the book a little too quick and light. Several subplots felt underdeveloped, with a number of characters simply left hanging at the story’s end. What resolution there was ended too tidy for my liking. I don’t have a problem with a happy ending (in fact, I prefer it in YA lit), but I do take issue with books that find themselves wrapped too quickly in a suspiciously neat, little bow. Most of the time I was reading, I felt like I was waiting for something to happen. Don’t get me wrong here: most of my favorite novels are character-driven, not plot-driven. However, my attention on character development should not be drawn away by weak plotting. This book was lacking in plot development and pacing, putting off most of the plot until the hurried end.

I love Carolyn Mackler’s later books, as you can see in my brief reviews of Tangled and The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things. Her remaining titles, Guyaholic and Vegan Virgin Valentine, are currently on my shelf, waiting to be read. I hope that I’ll like them as much, and chalk the shortcomings of Love and Other Four-Letter Words up to first book problems. I think it’s rare for authors to hit the mark in their debut novels, but one can see the underlying potential. Even though I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the others, I could still appreciate Mackler’s intuitive understanding of teen voice, which I find to be the most critical element of enjoyable YA novels.

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