Last year I read Kasie West's The Distance Between Us. While not perfect, I really enjoyed it. West has the sort of voice I look for in my light contemporary YA, a voice that is hard for me to define but I know when I find it. Could I be any more vague? Probably not. This voice as well as some other more concrete positives are why I looked forward to reading On the Fence which is every bit as good as I hoped.
This is a review of an ARC received from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.
She's a tomboy. He's the boy next door…
Charlie Reynolds can outrun, outscore, and outwit every boy she knows. But when it comes to being a girl, Charlie doesn't know the first thing about anything. So when she starts working at a chichi boutique to pay off a speeding ticket, she finds herself in a strange new world. To cope with the stress of her new reality, Charlie takes to spending nights chatting with her neighbor Braden through the fence between their yards. As she grows to depend on their nightly Fence Chats, she realizes she's got a bigger problem than speeding tickets-she's falling for Braden. She knows what it means to go for the win, but if spilling her secret means losing him for good, the stakes just got too high.
Quite honestly I've never been a big fan of tomboy embraces girly side she never knew she had because no one ever showed her before stories, so I was a little concerned about this one going in. No one lives in that much of a bubble. Unless it's a bubble they create for themselves. And that is why the trope works so well the way West let it play out. At least it worked well for me. Charlie's cluelessness when it came to fashion and make-up was a choice even if she didn't fully realize why she was making it, and her embracing of it is minimal. I loved that this book wasn't about her changing because she needed fixing or realizing she had missed out on something essential. It is about her journey to discover herself and that her perceptions of how people viewed her were what need to change. I also liked that while she briefly does attempt to act different for a boy, it's short lived and not drastic. And boy does she get called on it. And it's not for THE boy. THE boy is Braden, her brother's best friend and a regular fixture in her home. He's always been there. He is a truly great guy. Clever, caring, and unafraid to confront Charlie with hard truths, he is an excellent hero. I'm always a sucker for the friends to romance trope when it has great banter and chemistry and this one really does. I loved their late night fence talks and how it helped them to learn each other in new and different ways.
Another aspect of the novel that stands out is the family dynamic. I love a good sibling story and Charlie's three older brothers are prominent characters and play a huge part in her life and everything she does. Very different, they each contribute to Charlie's life and help her in ways that are both sweet and funny. The interactions between the four are wonderfully realistic in their bickering and teasing affection. Charlie's dad is also a key character in the novel and it was really great to see a relationship like theirs between a girl and her dad, not something you find in YA too often.
On the Fence is a great summer romance read, but it is a book that is about so much more as well. Charlie's journey to discover more about who she is and what she wants out of life is just as great as the romantic element. Any one who has enjoyed West's books in the past and likes contemporaries of this type should snap this up.
I read an e-gallye provided by the publisher, Harper Teen, via Edelweiss. On the Fence is available July 1st.