Anywhere by Jen Meyers
Reading Level: New Adult Romance
Release Date: August 24, 2013
Publisher: Turning Leaves Press
Pages: 267 pages
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
Skye is a 22-year-old recent college graduate who has been involved for the past two years with a young man her own age, Blaine, who is from a wealthy, New York City family. A year ago, she became engaged to Blaine, whom her mother adores, not because she had any desire to marry so young, but because Blaine put her on the spot by dramatically and publicly proposing to her at a family barbecue in front of his entire extended family. Skye accepted because she didn't want to embarrass him or disappoint her mother, and from then on, Blaine and her mother, who is even more of a control freak than Blaine, have been planning out Skye's entire future, utterly taking over her whole life. Finally, mere days before her wedding, Skye's pain at the relentless, smothering pressure from her mother and her fiancé exceeds enough the discomfort she feels at standing up for herself against them to provide her with the courage to break off her unwanted engagement. Well aware of her extremely low resistance to the inevitable emotional battering Blaine and her mother will launch against her to shove her back in line, she flees to France with her best friend, Paige, to remove herself from their toxic influence.
Skye is determined to establish her own identity and independence by fulfilling a longtime dream--which Blaine has patronizingly insisted she couldn't possibly truly want--spending the summer backpacking around Europe. Unfortunately, soon after they arrive in Paris, Paige discovers she is pregnant and states she must return home to make plans with her boyfriend. Skye agonizes over the dilemma of choosing to return with Paige and support her in her hour of crisis or staying behind to avoid an avalanche of dual pressure from her mother and Blaine to go through with the wedding. Luckily Skye has done well in choosing an accepting friend like Paige, who insists that Skye stay in Europe and continue with her travel plans. Little does Skye realize that within 24 hours of deciding to attempt traveling alone, she will meet Asher in the Paris train station, a young American about her own age who is on a mission of self-discovery as well.
As a long-time romance-fiction fan, I'm on a roll with my reading experiences this week. This is my second New Adult (NA), contemporary romance novel in a row with a metrosexual, Beta, romantic hero with nary a tattoo or piercing in sight. There is no mention of "rock hard abs," and no glorification of alpha-male promiscuity as a sign of the NA hero's social superiority. Asher is unabashedly portrayed as sensitive, compassionate, intelligent, and basically the complete opposite of Blaine and Mommy Dearest. In most NA romances, the alpha, macho, male romantic lead is, as such, inevitably, the complete opposite in personality to the heroine, or very close to it. In a very refreshing change to that increasingly hackneyed trope (which, let's face it, is a frequent occurrence in many "by the numbers," adult romance novels as well), Asher and Skye are quite similar in temperament. They are both sensitive souls who are very caring and compassionate, but who have had the unfortunate tendency in their love lives to be glommed onto by narcissistic control freaks--a reality all too common in the real world. Nice people far too infrequently end up with other nice people. It is therefore a delightful case of wish fulfillment to see two such sympathetic, decent individuals find each other rather than one of the romantic protagonists (usually the heroine) becoming obsessed with a domineering "bad boy" NA protagonist who, until meeting the heroine, has basically been a callous, uncaring narcissist in his one-night-stand relationships with girls and women. In this regard, the author does a truly excellent job of showing how inconsiderate, selfish, emotional vampires like Skye's mother and fiancé--and Asher's ex-girlfriend--have zero hesitation about walking all over people with a heart, conscience and compassion, but at the least whiff of opposition to their entirely self-centered goals for said kind people, hurl onto their supposed loved one a barrage of vituperative guilt-tripping. It is a case of a conscienceless, dishonorable person manipulating and controlling by appealing to the conscience of the honorable, something we witness Skye's mother doing incessantly throughout the story.
I particularly like romance plots such as this one where the Chief Virtue of the romantic protagonists is also their Chief Flaw. In this case, it is a strongly intertwined sense of loyalty and compassion, which creates a powerful desire to avoid hurting people they deeply care about and are loyal to. This particular Virtue/Flaw is very hard to pull off successfully in popular fiction, which demands a strong, active protagonist, because a personality like this can too easily come off in a story as a passive doormat. However, since the inciting incident of this story is Skye taking strong, assertive action in traveling to Europe, and the chief Antagonist for Skye is her mother, this story very much avoids the passive-doormat issue. In particular, every girl and woman who might read this book can relate to how primordial the mother-daughter relationship is, and given that Skye is still quite young, it is understandable and relatable that she could just now be breaking free of her mother's oppressive domination.
In short, this is an excellent story of "coming of age" as well as a romance.
The setting of this novel is also new and exciting for a NA romance. Rather than the usual university setting, we get to experience with Skye various fascinating locations throughout Europe. Anyone who has traveled in Europe or has wished to do so will enjoy the lively interplay of setting and story in this enjoyable novel.
I rate this book as follows:
Romance Plot: 4
Coming of Age Plot: 4