Back When You Were Easier to Love by Emily Wing Smith is a fluffy light read with an interesting concept. Who doesn't like books with potentially awkward road trips in cool cars? The book certainly delivers in terms of that promise. It also delivers in terms of writing. The style works well for the plot and the imagery is very good. I think there are many teen girls out there who will be able to identify with the main character and enjoy going along for the ride. I don't necessarily think that's a good thing.
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
What's worse than getting dumped? Not even knowing if you've been dumped. Joy got no goodbye, and certainly no explanation when Zan - the love of her life and the only good thing about stifling, backward Haven, Utah - unceremoniously and unexpectedly left for college a year early. Joy needs closure almost as much as she needs Zan, so she heads for California, and Zan, riding shotgun beside Zan's former-best-friend Noah.
When the story began I really felt a connection to Joy. She loves reading and books. She is the new girl at her high school and I know how that feels. I also moved my junior year of high school and that is not an easy time in one's life to make such a transition. When I came across this part I thought Joy was going to be my literary BFF: "I'd purposely waited until last to unpack my books. I loved my books too much to shove on a shelf willy-nilly. Books equaled permanence." And here I thought I was the only one weird enough to think that. I also liked how Joy was questioning her world. She is a Mormon and has recently moved from a town with a small community of Mormons to Haven, Utah where that is all the community to be had. She doesn't wish to rebel against the religion she was brought up in. She just doesn't like what she sees about it in Haven: "Even now that I live in a town where it's hard to tell where belief ends and culture begins-I don't like the culture, but I do like the belief." I really liked this insight. This is something everyone should sort out no matter what belief system they are being raised with. So I was immensely disappointed as the book continued and Joy kind of pulled a Bella Swan.
From the synopsis I really thought this book was about something other than a girl who goes psycho when her boyfriend leaves her and decides to follow him in stalker fashion all the way to California. Because he is her love for all eternity and they belong together and he just needs to see her to know that. Because with him she is a better version of herself (Joy 2.0) and without him everything loses its glow and she can't breathe. Wanting closure and a defined relationship status is one thing, this is something else entirely and far more dire. Even when she sees Zan again and realizes he is the world's biggest jerk I was still concerned for Joy's stability, because not half an hour later she is actively thinking of Noah as a romantic interest. That is not an exaggeration, it happens that fast. I think the author was trying to pave the way for this switch. Anyone who reads the synopsis has to suspect that is the way it is going to go and the author does try and make it seem as though Joy has feelings for Noah all along she doesn't want to own up to. It didn't work for me though. Joy was just far too unhealthily obsessed with one boy who she defined herself by. When she lost him it seemed like she latched on to the next available boy for her to do the same thing with. We are supposed to believe that things with Noah are different because Joy has thoughts and feelings about him she never had with Zan. Then one has to question what the psycho stalker show over Zan was all about. Joy doesn't need another boyfriend, she needs to figure out who she is and what she wants. That idea isn't even flirted with though.
So in the end I was less than impressed.