Here I am, continuing my way through Jennifer Echols's backlist. I remember Chachic and Maureen raving about Such a Rush when it first came out, but my library didn't have it so it wasn't a high priority for me. Big mistake. Boy is this book good.
When I was fourteen, I made a decision. If I was doomed to live in a trailer park next to an airport, I could complain about the smell of the jet fuel like my mom, I could drink myself to death over the noise like everybody else, or I could learn to fly.
Heaven Beach, South Carolina, is anything but, if you live at the low-rent end of town. All her life, Leah Jones has been the grown-up in her family, while her mother moves from boyfriend to boyfriend, letting any available money slip out of her hands. At school, they may diss Leah as trash, but she’s the one who negotiates with the landlord when the rent’s not paid. At fourteen, she’s the one who gets a job at the nearby airstrip.
But there’s one way Leah can escape reality. Saving every penny she can, she begs quiet Mr. Hall, who runs an aerial banner-advertising business at the airstrip and also offers flight lessons, to take her up just once. Leaving the trailer park far beneath her and swooping out over the sea is a rush greater than anything she’s ever experienced, and when Mr. Hall offers to give her cut-rate flight lessons, she feels ready to touch the sky.
By the time she’s a high school senior, Leah has become a good enough pilot that Mr. Hall offers her a job flying a banner plane. It seems like a dream come true... but turns out to be just as fleeting as any dream. Mr. Hall dies suddenly, leaving everything he owned in the hands of his teenage sons: golden boy Alec and adrenaline junkie Grayson. And they’re determined to keep the banner planes flying.
Though Leah has crushed on Grayson for years, she’s leery of getting involved in what now seems like a doomed business—until Grayson betrays her by digging up her most damning secret. Holding it over her head, he forces her to fly for secret reasons of his own, reasons involving Alec. Now Leah finds herself drawn into a battle between brothers—and the consequences could be deadly.
Here is what I love so much about Echols's writing: her characters are messed-up real people. The have faults and flaws aplenty, and those will sometimes outweigh their finer traits. They are just so real. Leah and Grayson exemplify this perfectly. Leah is the product of a teenage pregnancy and her mom has never come around to the idea of being the responsible adult. Leah decided she did not want to be her mother and made goals for herself. She is desperate and vulnerable in so many ways. She is one mistake away from losing everything she wants for her future. She wants out of the trailer park. She wants into college. She wants to fly. People who are desperate and vulnerable often don't make the best decisions when they feel threatened. This is certainly true for Leah. She has lines she will not cross, but they are not the same lines people who live comfortable lines would have. It is easy to judge and look down on her as a character, but that would come from a high place of privilege that doesn't realize how true poverty and drive to escape it can warp one's decision making processes. Grayson is there to take full advantage of this, but in true Echols's fashion there is more to him. I should never like a manipulative boy as much as I do Grayson, but it's because there really is so much more to him. He is blackmailing Leah. Holding her future over her head to get her to do what he wants. He doesn't ask her to do anything awful though and he pays her well for her flying skills. Asking her to date his brother is an idiotic move, one he holds on to way longer and with far more tenacity than he should. But this is where I think Echols really succeeded with his character. For all his maneuvering and taking over a business, running it and learning how to take taxes out of paychecks, he is still just an 18 year old boy. One who is heartbroken, confused, and desperate to arrange what's left in his life in a way that makes him feel his heart is safe and secure. Does he pick the dumbest plan on the planet to accomplish this? Oh yeah. But again I say, 18 year old boy. It is incredibly realistic.
The romance in this book made me nervous when I first heard about it, and played a part in my not wanting to rush it to the top of my TBR. I was afraid this was going to turn more melodramatic than necessary. And while there was some melodrama involved, it didn't manifest itself in quite the way I thought it would. Also all of the melodrama fit the story, made sense to who the characters were, and never seemed too much for me. All of the chemistry and heat in the book come from Leah and Grayson. Alec and Leah's relationship is practically a non-starter from the start for several reasons, the main one being neither one is trying that hard. Leah isn't at all okay with faking an interest in Alec, particularly when she likes Grayson, and Alec has is own reasons. In addition to the romance in the book, there is also much focus on Leah's relationship with her only friend, Molly. Leah has a completely undeserved reputation that causes most girls to hate her guts. Molly is different, but their relationship is a fraught one.
Echols tackles some weighty themes in this book too. Leah's poverty is a very real thing, as is the neglect she suffers under mother's lack of care. She has raised herself, but there is a limit to what she can do. She becomes highly upset at some of the prying and poking Alec and Grayson do into her life and why she does some of the things she does. Privilege has a hard time seeing how hard true poverty can really be. Through Leah's interactions with people at school there is also some treatment of slut-shaming and how hard society can be on girls. Leah is a beautiful and sexy girl. Men and boys are drawn to her and tend to want to help her. She is much hated for this, but she honestly is oblivious to her affect on the male sex. Despite her reputation, Leah's only ever had sex with one person. Like I said she has lines she doesn't want to cross to mess-up her plans. Plans that do not involve teenage pregnancy. Another thing I like about Echols's books is that they are very sex positive. Of her three books I've read, the female mc's have been a virgin, a highly picky non-virgin, and a girl who is neither a virgin or picky. All of them are view sex as a positive thing though, something they want to experience and enjoy. Their standards are different, what they are looking for is different. In Leah's case she doesn't want to get pregnant and her focus on other things. I really like the way Echols weaves this into her stories and shows so many different and realistic ways teenage girls live their lives and make their choices.
Still loving exploring this author's work and can't wait to read more.
Content Warning: mentions of underage smoking and drinking, some sexual content