I have been struggling with how to start this review. First, a huge thanks to the First to Read through Penguin that gave me the opportunity to read an eArc of this story. Second, I felt let down and disappointed with this story. I’ll get into the whys in a moment. Just know I finished feeling underwhelmed.
Short recap: June O’Donnell (aka Jack O’Donnell) was raised knowing that all Angerts in her home town were people she needed to stay away from. They mixed as well as oil and water. Everything changed when June met Saul Angert and their paths changed forever.
This was blurbed as a “Romeo & Juliet” type story. I could sort of see that as throughout the entire story I read (many, many times) that O’Donnells and Angerts were never to mingle. The one thing that bothered me was why? It was not explained until the very end why these two families had such bad blood and let me tell you – I could not have rolled my eyes any harder if I tried. It felt like a cop-out, an easy pass, a Get Out Of Jail Free card. It was not believable and it made me upset. I obviously won’t give it away here but know I felt so let down. The heavy use of magical realism also left a sour taste in my mouth. When the magic started to take over the story, that is when I feel it lost a lot of its steam. It soon completely focused on all magic that involved flashbacks, flash forwards, and flash sideways. I soon couldn’t figure out what tense I was reading in. Was it June’s past? Was it one of her great-great grandfather’s pasts? There were just too many too keep straight and I gave up caring.
Now the characters. I liked Hannah more than most of the other characters and she was only June’s best friend. June herself was just alright. Brace yourself for June being called various names throughout the story: Jack, Junior, June, Junie, June-bug, and more. There is a history of “Jack” kids in the the O’Donnell family so when she was born, she was named Jack. That’s cool, I know a female Kevin so I didn’t mind that. What I did mind was her answering to various names. I found it hard to keep up with her going by so many names. I also wanted her to be stronger, to realize that she could rely on others to help her instead of always running off to take care of things herself. Whenever she did that she was never strong enough and came back (to the present?) shattered. Events like that did not make me root for her. I thought she was a bag of snarky comments trying to be cool. Saul’s character was good but I did not find him swoon worthy at all. He felt like he needed to be the love interest because he was slated as the enemy. Always want what you cannot have, right? I felt no spark or connection between the two of them. They exchanged a lot of witty banter which got old real fast. Basically I read a lot of facts about these characters but nothing that made them seem real or believable to me. They never came to life.
There were some side other side characters that felt out of place and I am mainly speaking about June’s creative writing teacher Ms. deGeest. Henry really mucked things up by including this character. Apparently Saul (who is older than June) had a fling with Ms. deGeest back in the day. Ms. deGeest makes it a point to pay super close attention to June and her interactions with Saul outside of school, to the point where she jumps to conclusions and causes unnecessary trouble. Completely unnecessary and rather creepy. How can a teacher get away with that? At the same time, this teacher is also bending over backwards to help June in a creative writing class. Why the back and forth? Either you are the girl’s teacher or you are her frenemy – you can’t be both in this story. It seemed so out of place for Ms. deGeest to keep telling, or basically shoving it down June’s throat, that she will be a great writer someday. That side storyline had zero to do with the overall story. What was it Henry, filler? Something to fill the pages? Something for conflict? Either way it did nothing to add to the story.
Overall, I really wanted to like this story. I was excited to have the opportunity to read and review early because of the hype around Henry’s previous novel. I believe what Henry was trying to go for with this one got lost along the way. She tried to make too much happen and in the end it just did not work. Either this is a retelling of R&J, or this is a magical realism story. With the way this novel is written currently, it certainly is not both. There was so much potential but it fell so very short of the goal.