I don’t think I’ve ever agonised about a book review as much or for as long as I have for this book. See, I’m conflicted. I absolutely loved the style of writing and most of the pieces that made up the main character. I also highlighted so many sentences that I want to read to you so you can sigh with me about how perfectly they capture the feel of the story. I want to bathe in sentences that are simultaneously beautiful and heartbreaking like these:
Now would be the proper time to speak. But I’m pretty sure that my mouth has been blown apart and then reattached backward and inside out, a couple of miles north of my vocal cords.
I can feel all the loose ends in my life tangling around my ankles like seaweed, threatening to pull me under.
Memories are like land mines that I step on everywhere I turn.
At the same time, this book pushed so many of my buttons. I don’t expect other readers to feel the same way as I do about the niggles I had because hopefully your experiences have been different than mine, but I try to write authentic reviews and I can’t do that if I gloss over the not so shiny things in life.
The story begins with Grace moving in with her only living relative, her uncle Rusty, who has been MIA from Grace’s life since her Dad died. Grace has been in foster care for the past two years and has been dealing with her grief by herself, as well as the impacts of a sexual assault she experienced a few weeks before her father died.
The aftermath of sexual assault is painfully authentic in Grace’s character. The lingering shame, self doubt, fear, anger, grief and many other legacies of sexual assault are explored. I loved Grace’s resilience and bonded with her over her ability to speak sarcasm fluently. She thinks she knows who raped her but, because of medication she’d taken, that night is almost entirely a blank. As a result she doesn’t know who to trust and I wound up suspicious of almost everyone at some point in the book so I felt the author did a great job of creating an atmosphere of uncertainty.
While this book tackles some big issues the swoonfest diluted their impact for me. Boy wonder was a sweetheart but I would have liked him much more if he wasn’t so frustratingly perfect. As a huge romantiphobe I wouldn’t have chosen to read this book had I realised that swooning was going to be as prevalent as it was.
Longing, fiercer and more powerful than ever, is a hand on my back, propelling me toward him.
Had I bypassed this book I would have avoided sentences like that one and been relieved of some annoyance and nausea, but I also would have missed out on some stellar ‘I have to highlight this!’ writing. I wish that the lovey dovey parts had been replaced by friendship and banter between Grace and boy wonder but I expect most readers will love the romantic interludes. What really annoyed me was that it seemed that no matter what Grace was facing everything eventually boiled down to whether boy wonder still liked her or not.
I felt that where Owen was mysteriously going at exactly the same time every Saturday fell within Captain Obvious’ jurisdiction and there were a few other developments that I picked up on well before they were revealed. I mention this only because I usually suck at knowing what’s going to happen in a book before it does.
So, this is probably where my review will start to sound like a therapy session. Apologies in advance.
Some of the characters seemed to waft into a scene to impart the knowledge required for the next step in the investigation before disappearing from the book entirely and the mystery of who raped Grace unfolded too easily for me. I almost stopped reading the book when I found out who the rapist was because I didn’t find it believable that it was this particular person.
I despised Rusty’s character even though I think he was supposed to be sweet, if misguided. When the care of a traumatised teenager has been entrusted to you then irresponsibility is never going to be cute or endearing. I wanted to yell at him or smack him off the page or something.
I wouldn’t have thought it possible to envy someone’s experience in foster care but apparently it is. Grace only has two foster placements in two years and the second set of foster parents sounded like they should have been nominated for Foster Carers of the Year. While it’s refreshing to hear that good foster parents do exist the foster kids I’ve known haven’t lived in any award winning homes. It would have been more realistic to me if Grace had had some dodgy placements before hitting the foster kid jackpot.
The takeaway seemed to be (to me but you may not read it like this) that if you are raped it’s your responsibility to report it to the police to protect that person’s other potential victims. This puts so much pressure on a person who is already traumatised and while I’m all for reporting if that’s what the person wants to do it is their choice. While it would be incredible if the justice system actually dispensed justice in these cases it can be harmful to someone who has experienced sexual assault to attach their healing to an outcome for the perpetrator. On RAINN’s website there are statistics that I thought of when the characters were trying to push Grace to go to the police.
“Out of every 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free. 310 are reported to police. 57 reports lead to arrest. 11 cases get referred to prosecutors. 7 cases will lead to a felony conviction. 6 rapists will be incarcerated.”
I don’t quote this to discourage anyone from reporting sexual assault. I’ve personally reported some sexual assaults but not others so I can see the benefits and pitfalls of both options. I only want to say that if you have experienced sexual assault it’s your choice whether you report or not. Reporting is not the only path to healing.
Content warnings include sexual assault, alcoholism, drug abuse, foster care, and grief.
Thank you to NetGalley and Kids Can Press for the opportunity to read this book.
Once Upon a Blurb
Just when Grace is beginning to get used to being an orphan, her estranged uncle suddenly comes forward to claim her. That might have been okay if he’d spoken to her even once since her father died. Or if moving in with Uncle Rusty didn’t mean returning to New Harbor.
Grace once spent the best summers of her life in New Harbor. Now the place just reminds her of all she’s lost: her best friend, her boyfriend and any memory of the night that changed her forever.
People say the truth will set you free, but Grace isn’t sure about that. Once she starts looking for it, the truth about that night is hard to find – and what happens when her healing hurts the people she cares about the most?