Kasie West is a must read author for me though a couple of her recently published books were not my favorites by any stretch. Her latest Love, Life, and the List is everything I fell in love about her books originally and is my favorite of her books so far.
Abby and Cooper have been best friends since 8th grade when Abby moved to town. Their group is rounded out by Rachel and Justin who are both leaving the country for the entirety of the summer. Abby and Cooper will spend a lot of time just the two of them. Abby doesn't consider this to be a problem even though she confessed her love to Cooper the previous year and then played it off as a joke when she saw the panicked look on his face. Having Cooper as a best friend is the best even with her unrequited love she can't get rid of. When Abby is rejected for an art show she has her heart set on because her work lacks depth and emotional maturity, Abby makes The Heart List-a list of things she will do over the summer to grow her heart. Cooper sees the list and joins in. What follows is a summer of new people and experiences which leads to confrontations, heart break, joy, and renewal.
Love, Life, and the List is a first person narrative (as is usual with West's works) from Abby's perspective. I was thoroughly engaged by Abby's voice from the first chapter. I find this interesting because I'm nothing like her so didn't have a common thread to latch on to, yet I was compelled to keep reading and wanted to know more about her and understand what motivated her. In a lot of ways she's lived an insular life. She has a tight knit small friend group. She moves between home, school, and the art gallery where she works with her friend time filling in the spaces. She leads a very regulated existence for an artist. Some of this has to do with her dad being in the Army. Some of this has to do with her mother's anxiety about leaving the house, which is getting worse and worse. A lot of it is that Abby is comfortable with the status quo and doesn't like change. Her list forces her out of her comfort zone in so many ways. I enjoyed how the things she and Cooper were doing were realistically teenage activities too without either of them feeling the need to do anything stupidly dangerous (or dangerously stupid) and self-destructive. Cooper is an interesting character in his own right. Incredibly different from Abby, but they fit together well. He is a fundamental part of her life and she his, which makes Abby's feelings for him all the more complicated. Cooper isn't clueless. He knows how Abby feels. The way he interacts with her shows how much he values her in his life. The conflict that arises between the two of them in the plot is caused by factors both of them are responsible for. I don't want to spoil anything with details, but the way West handles this conflict is my favorite part of the book. It was so well done. Cooper ends up carelessly and unintentionally hurting Abby. Her response to that is extreme, but entirely necessary for where she is in her journey and her feelings for him. I was impressed by how strong she was in her convictions and how she stuck to what she knew would be best for her. Cooper also shows what a great guy he is by backing off and giving her the space she asks for. The resolution to this is exactly what you would expect from a romance, but the journey there is so well done. I'm not a huge fan of the unrequited love of one best friend for another for years trope, but it worked for me so well in this context and with how it played out.
Another aspect of Love, Life, and the List that makes it excellent is Abby's relationship with her family. Her grandfather, who she shares a lot of personality traits with, lives with them. Her father is deployed (as he often is). Her mother struggles with leaving the house and is only getting worse. Often that much conflict is too much, especially in a romance, but here it works so well. Each relationship helps build Abby's character and is written in such a way that each character is fully formed and completely human, not just a plot device. Every adult in her life loves her despite the issues that keep them from being 100% there for her all the time. The reader sees that in all of their interactions. The balance of family conflict, relationship conflict, and work conflict in Abby's life is balanced perfectly in the narrative.
All of this isn't even mentioning the new friends Abby makes over the summer who are both good for her and expand her horizons.
I thoroughly recommend this for anyone who enjoys stories of relationships with excellent character development.