Monday, 7 December 2015

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Review: Just Visiting by Dahlia Adler

Just Visiting by Dahlia AdlerJust Visiting by Dahlia Adler (eProof) - Reagan Forrester wants out—out of her trailer park, out of reach of her freeloading mother, and out of the shadow of the relationship that made her the pariah of Charytan, Kansas.

Victoria Reyes wants in—in to a fashion design program, in to the arms of a cute guy who doesn't go to Charytan High, and in to a city where she won't stand out for being Mexican.

One thing the polar-opposite best friends do agree on is that wherever they go, they’re staying together. But when they set off on a series of college visits at the start of their senior year, they quickly see that the future doesn’t look quite like they expected. After two years of near-solitude following the betrayal of the ex-boyfriend who broke her heart, Reagan falls hard and fast for a Battlestar Galactica-loving, brilliant smile-sporting pre-med prospective... only to learn she's set herself up for heartbreak all over again. Meanwhile, Victoria runs full-speed toward all the things she thinks she wants… only to realize everything she’s looking for might be in the very place they've sworn to leave.

As both Reagan and Victoria struggle to learn who they are and what they want in the present, they discover just how much they don't know about each other's pasts. And when each learns what the other’s been hiding, they'll have to decide whether their friendship has a future.
From Goodreads.

It wasn't until fairly recently that I discovered Dahlia Adler was an author. Originally, I thought Adler was worked in publishing in some way as an advocate for diverse YA. But once I discovered she was an author, considering how passionate she is about diverse YA, I was sure her books would be awesome, so when the opportunity came up to review her latest novel, Just Visiting, I jumped at the chance. I'm so glad I did, because it was brilliant!

Reagan and Victoria have been best friends for the past three years. Complete opposites, Reagan is academic and driven while Victoria is interested in parties and boys. The one things that keeps them close is their longing to get out of small town Charytan; for Reagan, to escape the poverty of her trailer park and to get away from a secret past, and for Victoria, to go somewhere where she can do something with her love of fashion design and where no-one bats an eye at the colour of her skin. Together, they plan multiple weekend visits to various colleges to help them decide where they will go, because one thing is for certain: they will be going together. But when Victoria struggles to find exactly what she's after, and Reagan's life is made complicated by meeting the gorgeous Dev, the two friends realise, as much as they love each other, there's a lot about each other they don't know. They have relied on each other for so long, but when the truth comes out, is their friendship sttrong enough to survive the secrets?

Oh, I loved this book so, so much! I'm always amazed when authors manage to give their characters such distinctive voices for a dual narrative, and Adler does a  fantastic job with Reagan and Victoria! The two are so, so different, sometimes it's a wonder they're friends at all, but they're both so fiercely loyal to each other, they always have each other's back. That is until they discover there's more to each other than they realised, things they've been holding back. Reagan has a secret past from before Victoria moved to Charytan, involving a relationship with a boy who is now in the army. But Reagan is very tight-lipped about the topic, it's simply not something that's up for discussion. Whatever it is, though, affected her deeply, making the tentative friendship-with-the-possibility-of-more with Dev even more complicated than it already is. Even with the hints that were dropped throughout the novel, I never really guessed what Reagan's back story would be. It was so shocking, and I could completely understand why Reagan has the problems she does. For Victoria, her secrets are intertwined with who she is. Victoria's parents are from Mexico, and she has suffered suspicion and dislike her whole life because of the colour of her skin - at best. Victoria doesn't think about what it's been like at it's worst.

The two girls have such a fear of judgement and blame, even from their best friend, they keep their pasts hidden, for fear of losing the one of the only people who accept them - because they don't know. Just Visiting is probably the first book I've read where the main focus of the story is on a strong female friendship, and it's beautiful and moving, even with it's complications and bumps in the road along the way. It actually made me a little envious; I didn't have any particularly strong female friendships until my late teens, and even that wasn't as strong as my friendship with my best friend now, who's male. Just Visiting makes me feel I missed out on an important part of being a teenage girl, but also really grateful for the friendship I have now. Just Visiting is really a story on the importance of friendship, and how strong and deep that love goes, even when things get rough.

As expected considering how passionate Adler is about diversity in YA, Just Visiting has a range of diverse and minority characters. As I've mentioned, Victoria is of Mexican descent and Reagan comes from an impoverished family, working every hour she can to pay for gas, some bills, and whatever her mum chooses to buy for herself once Reagan has handed over her money. Victoria's mum is deaf; Dev, Reagen's love interest, is Indian; and Dev's friend Jamie is an Asian Jew. Just Visiting's diverse cast feels quite natural, whereas I've read other diverse books where it felt the diverse characters were there to tick off a box and felt quite forced. Saying that, though, each identity is more than incidental and is touched on, if only briefly; Dev discusses how people have difficulty pronouncing his name, Jamie discusses how people expect him to have a surname like 'Chang' rather than 'Goldstein', and there's talk about learning ASL (American Sign Language). Adler goes into more depth on some identities than others, but it still feels really natural, conversations that would generally come up, rather than shoehorned in.

I absolutely adored Just Visiting, and I am so excited to read Adler's other books! Do read Just Visiting, it's amazing!

Thank you to Dahlia Adler for the eProof.

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Published: 17th November 2015
Publisher: Spencer Hill Contemporary
Dahlia Adler's Website

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