Tuesday, August 06, 2013

"The Infinite Moment of Us," by Lauren Myracle (Amulet 2013)

The Chick: Wren Gray. An overachieving high school graduate who's excited to attend Emory college, and later, medical school.
The Rub: But is this really her, or the person her parents want her to be? And what will they say when they discover she wants to defer her acceptance to Emory?

The Dude: Charlie Parker. A solitary foster kid who's still trying to acclimate to his loving foster family. He's loved Wren from afar, though.
The Rub: Can someone as perfect as Wren ever love someone as damaged as him?

The Plot:

Wren: I'm tired of this gilded cage of Parental Expectations! I WANT TO BE FREEEE!

Charlie: I'm tired of being the Foster Kid with no future! WREN, I LOVE YOU!

Wren: No way I totally love you too! This is awesome!

Charlie: Cool.

Disapproving Parents: *are disapproving*

Wren: OMG, Charlie loves his family more than me! Not fair!

Charlie: OMG, what'll I do if Wren moves to Guatemala without me?

Evil Slutty Ex: Who's up for some refreshing External Conflict?

Wren and Charlie: We are!

Evil Slutty Ex: Sweet! I'mma ramble on, super-villain-style, about how Charlie and I are so alike, and then I'll try to kill myself. How's that?

Charlie: Cool.

Wren: Psych! I've decided not to go Guatemala! I can be a carefree, independent girl right here in Atlanta!

Charlie: ...could you, maybe, have thought to tell me that BEFORE my super-poor parents bought me a non-refundable plane ticket to Guatemala?

Wren: ...

Charlie: And also HOORAY!

Romance Convention Checklist:

  • 1 Good Girl
  • 1 Bad Boy from the Wrong Side of the Tracks
  • 2 Loving Foster Parents
  • 1 Adorable Disabled Sibling
  • 2 Disapproving Biological Parents
  • 1 Evil Slutty Ex
  • 1 Gift of the Magi Ending

The Word: You might have noticed that I've set this novel up with my romance review format, rather than my YA novel format.

Well, it was with a little surprise that I realized Lauren Myracle's newest novel is, essentially, a romance. Just with younger protagonists. Well, a younger hero - historical romances get away with 17- and 18-year-old heroines all the time. But it's all there - the meet-cute, the longing sighs, the Evil Slutty Ex (sigh), the black moment, and rampant sex scenes that won't turn a regular romance reader's head but will likely land YA author Myracle back on the Most-Banned-Author list again.

That wouldn't have bothered me, except for the fact that, as a romance, Infinite Moment is a fairly conventional one. The too-perfect girl from the stifling privileged family. The lonesome outcast boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Been there. Done that.

Wren is on the cusp of graduating - with excellent grades, a spotless record, and an acceptance letter to Emory, the college where her mother works. It's a pretty good life - except it's not Wren's. It's her overprotective, controlling parents' life, to the point where Wren has no idea where her parents' choices end and her choices begin. So, unbeknownst to her family, she's rejected Emory and has signed up for Project Unity, a junior Peace Corps program that will have her teaching English in Guatemala. She's excited, but also terrified at the prospect of disappointing her parents.

Charlie spent years in the foster care system after his mother abandoned him in a garage during a heat wave. He's finally landed in a loving home (including a rambunctious little brother named Dev), and he's determined not to screw it up. However much he's tried to convince himself that love doesn't exist - he knows he's in love with Wren. But does he have the courage to admit it?

It's weird to read this book from the perspective of someone who's read extensively in romance before coming to YA, because I get the sense that this is all supposed to be new ground for YA readers. And I tried to appreciate it from that perspective, but I don't think I fully succeeded. It's odd - the individual parts of this story are good, but the sum of those parts fell short of the mark.

For instance, I loved the characters. I loved the excruciatingly real depiction of Wren's parents - they're not abusive or overtly cruel, but it's easy to see how their well-meant manipulations and behaviours have half-convinced Wren that their love is conditional upon their approval. Wren, herself, is an interesting character - especially as she struggles to identify which beliefs and desires are her own, and which ones have been ingrained by her parents. Her dialogue is fraught with apologies for stepping beyond the margins and thus, further away from her family.

And I appreciated where Myracle was going with Infinite Moment's sex scenes, which are frank and graphic from a YA perspective, while fairly run-of-the-mill from a romance perspective. Having teens explore their sexuality while talking to each other about it honestly was refreshing. However, while I'm more tolerant of Stupid Sex Decisions in romance (home of Secret Babies, Runaway Dukes, and Hoydens in Pants), I am less tolerant of it in a "realistic" YA so when Wren gives the whole "I'm on the pill, no condom required" schtick I nearly pulled a facial muscle with all my eye-rolling.

That being said, the sum of the story itself wasn't much. Just a pair of teenagers in love. While I liked the characterization and some of the supporting characters (with the Enormous Exception of the poorly-drawn Evil Slutty Ex, a selection straight out of Cliched Romance Central Casting), I found I couldn't get behind the story as much. Because, like, they're teens. I felt uncomfortable with how they were already thinking of changing their entire futures and college plans just to be with each other - especially since, as well-developed teen characters, they have Well-Developed Teen Feelings and make Well-Developed Really Stupid Teen Decisions.

I kept waiting around for a more substantial story, and there really wasn't one. It sort of meanders along,  with lots of hugs and kisses and Perfect Understanding Until Conflict Is Required for the Plot, with the Big Question (will Wren leave for Guatemala without Charlie?) looming above them until it's abruptly resolved thanks to the Power of Love. I'm honestly not sure how I would have reacted to this story without my years of romance experience, so feel free to take my review with a grain of salt, but The Infinite Moment of Us has a lot of nice little moments, but falls short of being eternally awesome.

...and if you will permit me two more paragraphs, I'm just going to rant on the fact that the author chose to have an Obviously Unstable Evil Slut Ex as the contrived villain of this piece. Starrla and Charlie had an extremely unhealthy sexual relationship in the past - which I get. It happens. Teens can grow and develop and move on from such things. Except for the fact that Charlie walks away from that relationship smelling like a rose while Starrla is blamed for the whole thing because She's Broken and Damaged. Yeah, don't bother developing her character - just heavily imply she's a Rape Victim as a blanket explanation for all the Stupid Shit She Does. Um, it takes two people to have sex. How come Starrla's sexual choices are constantly compared to Wren's over and over and found wanting while Charlie's sexual choices are never freakin' mentioned?

The only reason she didn't ruin the entire novel is because, well, Starrla isn't really in the novel all that much. She's just there to be this Big Slutty White Trash Boogeyman who'll randomly toss her ratty mane of cheap extensions and provide Cheap Emotional Conflict whenever the protagonists are getting too cuddly.


  1. Christina Franke7:09 AM

    Part of why I'm so opposed to the whole new adult as a genre thing is that the heroines of regular romances are often new adult in age, and the heroes on the upper end of the spectrum. Gee, a romance novel about a heroine who's 18/19 and a hero who's 24/25: that sounds slightly familiar. Mostly off topic, but whatever I had to rant.

    I thought Lauren Myracle was supposed to write intense, hard-hitting novels, not hackneyed romances.

    Cliched Romance Central Casting sounds like a fun place to work. Oh, lawd, I hate when the teenagers start changing all of their plans to be together. "Well, I was going to go to college to become a doctor, but the school I got into is across the country from yours, so I'll just take a year off and be a waitress in your city." No, bitch (be you the boy or the girl in this relationship, or if it's lesbian, gay, etc.), don't change your plans for this. If you were waffling between schools and one was closer to your "true love," then fine, but YOU have to come first, then your relationship.

    Also, the trope of judging exes/other females for having sex, while the heroine can have a bunch of sex with her boyfriend and be just as pure of heart really infuriates me. Can that go die now?

  2. AnimeJune11:17 AM

    Yeah - I've heard that's why a lot of romance readers can't really get into the romance plotline in a YA. Because it's cute - but you can't really promise forever and most people don't WANT that to be forever.

    Lauren Myracle has written some really awesome books - Shine is of my favourite novels ever, period. But I think here she was just trying to write a frank novel for teens but it fell into some typical romance pitfalls.

  3. wiffle12:47 PM

    I'm a bit torn about the conclusion that 18 is too young to be thinking about "forever". I married him at 22 and we're together at almost 40 after 3 kids. I didn't change anything about my college plans after meeting him, although in retrospect I might have happier speeding them up. I wasn't really happy in college -- it was something I had done to get the piece of paper (aka make others happy.) ((Sound familiar yet??)) Ah well - hindsight is 20/20.

    At any rate, giving up a career you'd really like to do is stupid for a significant other, at any age. On the flip side, it's not usually critical that you go a school 1/2 way across the country to accomplish your career plans. Most of the time, there's an intelligent way to be together and accomplish those goals. And even teens can see that (sometimes they are way smarter than the adults that surround them.) :)

  4. AnimeJune6:06 PM

    I can totally see that. And I know it's true in many cases. As a reader I just have a harder time taking such endings seriously.