Author: Emery Lord
Find the author: Website, Blog, Twitter, Goodreads, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr
Also by this author: The Start of Me and You, When We Collided, The Names They Gave Us, Meet Cute: Some People Are Destined to Meet.
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing USA
Publication date: April 15th 2014
Buy It: Indigo.ca | Amazon.com | The Book Depository | iBooks | Google Books | Audible
After breaking up with her bad-news boyfriend, Reagan O'Neill is ready to leave her rebellious ways behind. . . and her best friend, country superstar Lilah Montgomery, is nursing a broken heart of her own. Fortunately, Lilah's 24-city tour is about to kick off, offering a perfect opportunity for a girls-only summer of break-up ballads and healing hearts. But when Matt Finch joins the tour as its opening act, his boy-next-door charm proves difficult for Reagan to resist, despite her vow to live a drama-free existence. This summer, Reagan and Lilah will navigate the ups and downs of fame and friendship as they come to see that giving your heart to the right person is always a risk worth taking. A fresh new voice in contemporary romance, Emery Lord's gorgeous writing hits all the right notes.
Open Road Summer was a library read right before BEA14 for me. It stuck with me totally – it was one of those books I just didn’t want to end, where every page there was a moment that made me suck in my breath because it was so perfect. Interestingly, I remember chatting in a line with another blogger, and discussing how she couldn’t deal with the slut-shaming. So when I came home, I started writing this review, and I realized that I needed to address this. Because while the character Reagan does slut-shame girls, there is never an instance where the book or the author condones her actions. In fact, I think that Emery Lord has taken great pains to show how much Reagan’s slut-shaming is really an instance of her own insecurities – and in her slut-shaming, she is really just beating up on herself.
Firstly, the plot. Lilah Montgomery is a household name in country music now, a singer-songwriter who is headlining her first big tour this summer. Reagan, her best friend, is coming along because she needs a break from the bad decisions that she’s made in the past few years, including getting arrested, and being with a really terrible dude. Dee (as Lilah is known to her friends) and Reagan are both suffering from broken hearts: Dee and her high school sweetheart Jimmy broke up awhile ago because he just wants to live a normal life, and she obviously doesn’t have that. Reagan is a mess but not as much because of romance – more because she knows that a lot of what she’s dealing with is from bad decisions, one of which was her ex-boyfriend.
Throughout the story, you get glimpses at what has made Reagan such a mess. The girl is hardened, someone who is deeply suspicious of people around her. Dee is probably the only person she trusts at the beginning.
Every review that I’ve read thus far has talked about Reagan and Dee’s relationship, and mine is not any different. This is female friendship done right, guys. Dee and Reagan together are hilarious and kind of unstoppable. They have adorable antics (see: zipping Reagan into a suitcase), they are kind to one another, they always know what’s going on in each other’s lives, and they pick each other up when they fall. It’s the kind of friendship that I’ve always wished I had – girls who are there for each other in an instant, and support each other even when one of them has stupid ideas.
Because their friendship is so strong, in some ways, Reagan relies on it almost too much. She doesn’t feel like she needs to branch out and have more friends. She’s got the perfect friend, why try for something else? So Reagan is hostile to other girls. She’s not someone who trusts easily.
“Ugh,” Dee groans, beating her palms against the coffee table. “She knows I wanted Matt to open for me anyway but he was dealing with some family stuff, so I didn’t want to ask. It would be so fun to have him along, but not like this—not with the pretend-boyfriend strings attached.”
I stare down at the criss-crossed leather straps of my favorite wedge sandals. We were supposed to have so much fun. Well, maybe not fun fun, but we were at least supposed to stay together the way the two weeping willows in her parents’ backyard do—standing their ground side by side, even if they’re both drooping.
Reagan is feeling a bit possessive of Dee – she’s not completely interdependent, but there is definitely some jealousy at the thought of anyone invading her friendship. And I think because it’s so great, it’s really made her distrustful of other girls, particularly because other girls don’t really treat her that well.
The memory comes barreling back to me, from three years ago. I wasn’t surprised that the school counselor called me down to her office to “check in” only a few days into freshman year. Gossip had been following me around since I was in middle school, when a gaggle of mean girls started a rumor that I was anorexic. By the time I hit a C-cup in eighth grade, they were saying that I’d gotten implants, that I was an aspiring porn star, that I was a slut. Any time I missed school for a dentist appointment, I returned to rumors that I was cutting class to fool around with a senior. I was the girl who had no mom, the girl whose dad was not so anonymously in Alcoholics Anonymous. Even the school counselor believed the rumors about me might be true. I could tell she was fishing around for information about the gossip du jour—that I’d hooked up with a teacher. I was fourteen and had only kissed two boys ever. Plus: ew. A teacher?
I sighed, shaking my head at the counselor. “Look, Mia Graziani started that rumor to deflect attention from her own problems. I don’t want to gossip, but . . . frankly, I’ve seen her throwing up in the bathroom twice this past month, so . . . either pregnancy or bulimia. Poor girl.”
It was a total lie, and I almost felt bad about it. But I hated Mia. I hated her for choosing me as the subject of her cruelty. I hated her more for bringing out the viciousness in me. This wasn’t who I wanted to be, but how many times can a dog get kicked before she bares her teeth in return?
I retreated to the girl’s bathroom as the bell rang. I went into the stall where “Reagan O’Neill is a whore” was written on the back of the door. In black Sharpie, I spelled out exactly where Mia Graziani could shove it. It wasn’t long before I heard the creak of the door and soft footsteps.
“Reagan . . .” Dee always sounds like her mom when she uses her calm voice. “C’mon. Come out.”
I complied by kicking the stall door with all my might. Dee winced at the sound of the metal door slamming against the wall and then surveyed my vandalism. She was holding the bathroom pass from the class we were both supposed to be in.
“They’re just jealous.”
“Why would they be jealous?”
“Because you’re beautiful and smart. They know it. You make them insecure.”
“Yeah, right.” I scowled, kicking the door again, though with less force this time.
Dee caught the door with one hand before it could hit the wall.
“They’re mean to you, too, you know,” I said. They called Dee “Frizz” behind her back and talked about her songwriting contract with air quotes, like they didn’t believe it was real. But it was still unkind of me—attempting to drag Dee along the low road with me. Her cheeks flinched, trying to frown, but she wouldn’t let them. Even then, Dee was strong. Not in the loud, brassy, I-am-woman way that some girls are. She was strong then the way she’s strong now, in a quiet but irrepressible way.
“Yeah, I know,” she said finally. “But my mom says the best revenge is living well, and I believe her.”
Here we see the first–and I believe the only–instance of Reagan’s slut-shaming – which happened in the past and precisely stems from other girls bullying her. I’m not saying it’s right – in fact, Reagan KNOWS it’s not right, and she “almost felt bad about it…I hated her more for bringing out the viciousness in me. This wasn’t who I wanted to be.” And to reinforce the wrongness of her actions, right after this, Dee comes in and surveys her “vandalism.” The fact that the book is calling it that is indicative of how the author – and the book – feel about what Reagan has done. And to add to that, we hear that Dee herself has been bullied – but instead of doing what Reagan does, she is “strong…in a quiet, but irrepressible way.” It’s obvious who the book agrees with here.
Does this make Reagan unlikeable? Maybe. For me, it made her all the more understandable, though. Because I’m not someone who trusts easily. I’ve been bullied in the past. And I used to manifest that bullying by lashing out at my friends and family, testing them to make sure that they really loved me. I got suspicious of any cool girl who looked too perfect, and yes, I acted out and did some things that were maybe a little dumb and a little wild.
This is what Reagan does. She is such a mess, and such a contrast of someone who hates everyone around her and someone who is so down on herself.
I was mad at my mom for abandoning us and mad at him for abandoning me emotionally. Not even Dee’s good influence could keep me from trying to hurt my parents the way they hurt me. At least that’s what my court-appointed therapist thinks, and I hate to admit that she’s probably right. I also hate to admit that she’s court-appointed.
My track record started with mouthing off in seventh grade and skipping a few study halls in eighth grade. Freshman year of high school, I flirted with senior boys and made out with them in their cars, just to feel that rush of it all. I snuck out of the house to parties, where I smoked, drank bad beer, and needed Dee to help me home. After Dee left on her first tour, I lost my virginity to a guy I barely knew, which was an experience that’s barely worth remembering.
An underage-drinking charge sent me to court last fall…My list of offenses runs long, and I’m not proud of any of them—except maybe the time I outran a cop while wearing stilettos. But things changed in April, and so did I. I’m trying to get my act together, but I can’t be someone I’m not. I still flirt with boys to get what I want, and I still crave the occasional cigarette. I’m just not as bad as I used to be.
I turn another corner, only to find even screechier girls at a merchandise counter.
Immediately after talking about her own offenses and her actions – obviously those of a girl who doesn’t have much self-esteem and is acting out, Reagan insecurely calls the girls at Dee’s concert “screechy.” This is Reagan’s defense mechanism, her way of telling herself that she is different from other girls – while they are screechy and fangirl-ish, she is different. In fact, Reagan has been told of her differences and excluded so many times that she now automatically puts herself there. She hates herself for doing things “just to feel the rush of it all,” including losing her virginity “to a guy [I] barely knew, which was an experience that’s barely worth remembering.” And yet, she is the one putting herself in the very position that other girls assigned to her – she perpetuates the same behaviors that she now slut-shames other girls for.
To me, this is a clear indicator that the thought-hatred she has throughout the narrative really stems from her hatred of herself. In the scene that most other reviews I’ve read take as the biggest example of Reagan’s slut-shaming, we see Reagan trying to fight off her own attraction to Matt Finch while seeing several girls in a bar drawn to him:
“Gotta go,” the girl says, turning back to us. “Don’t wanna miss Matt Finch! Yum.”
As she walks away, I sneer at her. Idiot. Matt’s a human being, not an apple pie….There’s a group of girls already camped out in front of the small stage space, and more girls are gravitating toward it by the minute. They all look like they’ve tried extra hard tonight, like they’re desperate to get with Matt Finch for One Night Only. Best of luck, bitches….
The squeals rise up while girls push to find a spot near the stage. They’re clapping as best they can with drinks in hand, and Matt ducks onstage from behind the thick navy curtain. Dee lets out an impressive wolf whistle, which sets off the whole crowd even louder. I wish all these skanks would just sit down so I could see. Repositioning my chair, I nearly strain my back trying to see past a tall blond in unnecessarily high heels….
I’m not putting in the entire scene, but rest assured, there’s more of Reagan’s attitude. And more of her distancing herself from those girls, not only because she doesn’t want to admit to liking Matt, but also because Reagan sees herself as Other to the girls here. She places herself in a position where she is different from other girls, and thus, she is alone, separate, but also safe from any position where she might end up with her heart on her sleeve.
But note her behavior after the show:
Out of the corner of my eye, I see him ducking back into the bar, trying to make his way toward us. A group of doting bimbos sidelines him immediately, asking for pictures with cell phones and crappy point-and-shoot cameras. He smiles gamely as the flashes go off, girls wrapping their arms around him, and my gag reflex trills in my throat. Glancing around to make sure no one’s watching, I lean over toward the table, subtly adjusting my push-up bra.
“Hey, guys.” He looks relieved, his whole body relaxing once he’s in our presence. Up close, his shirt looks damp with sweat, and, on anyone else, this would be disgusting. Instead, on Matt, I find it inexplicably sexy, and I force my eyes away.
“You were wonderful,” Dee says, and my brain races to find a compliment. I mean, what am I supposed to say? That song makes me feel like I already know you completely, like we existed together in a former life. Like you get me, without even knowing me. Like maybe I need to get you alone to find out how many other ways you can make me feel.
“It was good.” I flash him the hint of a smile. The more I see girls fawning over him, the less I want to be one of them.
Despite the fact that Reagan sees herself as Other to the girls at the bar, her actions speak louder than her words. She is adjusting her push-up bra so that she can get an edge over the other girls, thus, placing herself squarely in the group of girls trying to impress Matt. The more she slut-shames other girls, the more she acts like one of those girls.
“I don’t like any girl who bites her lip in an attempt to look cute and innocent,” she narrates. And yet, earlier on in the book, as they are getting ready to go to the very same show, Reagan also discusses her own attempts to look a certain way for Matt:
I feel almost nervous, not quite as in control as I’d like to be. Something about Matt puts me off guard, and I don’t like it. As I was picking out something to wear, I caught myself worrying that I’d look like I tried too hard. I decided on a black tank-top dress, which is tight and cotton and simple, very I-just-threw-this-on. The necklace gives it a more feminine touch. Still, I lean forward in the mirror, adjusting my bra for maximum cleavage.
And isn’t that eerily similar to what she’s internally shaming the other girl for? Moreover, the fact that Reagan doesn’t often voice her slut-shaming thoughts out loud also proves how timid Reagan’s slut-shaming is. She’s internalized an idea of What Sluts Wear and What Sluts Do. And when she goes on to mention her own skimpy clothing, her own actions to become the very girls she is shaming.
Her choice of clothing is not her “owning” that persona. It’s a way of reminding herself that she should be shamed as well. She’s broken, she’s a mess, and her outward appearance and her hostile thoughts reflect that.
I’ve gone on a long time about this, but I want to be clear. I think the author was deliberately showing us how girls run themselves down, how low self-esteem happens, and how bad decisions come from those negative thought patterns. We are ABSOLUTELY supposed to think that Reagan’s slut-shaming is not okay, and that her opinions about people are not always correct, and tinged by her own bad experiences. And that’s why, when she meets Matt Finch, she is terrified. He sees right through her, he’s a good boy, he’s everything that she’s not supposed to deserve as a “slut.”
“Besides, Matt Finch, classifiable good boy, would never go for a girl like me. Of course he wouldn’t,” Reagan says. And yet he wants her. And the things he likes about her are all the things that she’s tried to bury within herself – the vulnerable parts that make her a great photographer and a great friend and a girl who is way more hurt and broken that she wants to admit.
“God,” he mutters. “Most girls love it when I write them a song.”
“Well, I’m not most girls,” I snap at him.
“No shit!” His voice rises into a frustrated laugh. “That’s why I want you to stop being like this and just go out with me!”
What’s fascinating about this scene is that while Reagan does not think of herself as something special, Matt has, in fact, singled her out as the one girl who isn’t “most girls.” He believes that her differences are real and good, while Reagan only sees them as weapons or more evidence of her own slut identity.
My appearance and collection of tiny clothes are like flypaper, drawing in good boys and bad boys, boys younger than me and men old enough to be my father. Their reactions make it easier to tell the difference between the harmless guys and the ones who are venomous—the ones who will make it sting. But sometimes they fool me.
What’s my point here? Not only does Open Road Summer not condone slut-shaming, but, in fact, it celebrates strong, complex, flawed characters in a way that is more feminist than any I’ve read in a long while. I’ve now read ORS four times, and each time, I felt an amazing connection with the main character and the complexity of the issues they were dealing with. Jamie at The Perpetual Page-Turner did a post earlier this year on whether it’s the author’s job to write realism, or to write something that really promotes a good way of thinking. In my opinion, Emery Lord has brilliantly done both – it just takes a little unpacking to see it.
What do you think of the slut-shaming issue in Open Road Summer? Do you think that the slut-shaming was inappropriate or true-to-life? Do you agree with me that even though Reagan did have some truly terrible thoughts about girls, it was clear that the author and the book did not condone it? Is it the author’s job to be truthful or to set an example? Hit the comments and let me know!
If you’ve read this far, you deserve a giveaway! Same as yesterday’s, Bloomsbury is generously providing signed, personalized copies of Open Road Summer and The Start of Me and You to a lucky US/CAN reader (international friends, head to yesterday’s post to enter). Good luck!
Great review! I’ve been eyeing this book but I had my doubts. I’ve been a little tight on budget so I didn’t want to risk buying a book that I wouldn’t like. I needed a great recommendation, and your review might just be it. You’ve convinced me to give it a try. 😀
I believe that authors do need to be honest AND present the truth to his or her readers. I specifically believe this for Teen/YA books. With the truth being told, that doesn’t mean that an example of what’s right can’t be used.
Teens and adults now are living lives where everything is almost public knowledge. Thanks social media! If a person can sit in her or his house and read a fiction book and get the important true-to-life details she or he needs, that’s a mind that can be accepting and a possible change to a chain of people.
Using slut-shaming here as an example, I do think it’s totally possible for readers to learn a lesson with truths to be understanding.
I haven’t read Open Road Summer yet but I believe the Author should present an example of what’s right. Thank you
This is the first I’ve heard of “Slut Shaming”. I think the author should tell the truth.
I haven’t read OPEN ROAD SUMMER yet, but after this discussion post it’s definitely on my TBR. This was so well thought out and presented. Thanks for posting!
I think it’s the author’s job to present a true picture of us as humans. Readers are smart enough to know good from bad behavior. It sounds like Reagan’s actions match what she’s gone through in her life, and she wouldn’t be as complex (or real) a character without it.
Thanks again for posting and hosting these giveaways!
I really enjoyed this post! While I understand that slut-shaming happens all the time, every single day– often without the people who do it realizing why it’s wrong and damaging– I do think that authors and other content creators should strive to advocate for what’s right. Our culture and the media we consume provides us with constant examples of slut-shaming and internalized misogyny. We NEED books (especially YA books) that shut down these damaging tropes. I don’t want an author to write about slut-shaming simply because it’s “realistic;” rather, I want stories that explain why it’s problematic that slut-shaming is considered “normal” or “realistic.” That being said, from following Emery on social media, she’s one of my favorite feminist ladies, and I absolutely can see that she wrote Reagan the way she did for a reason. I think that Reagan’s journey in Open Road Summer shows her realizing that her feelings toward herself and towards other women are damaging and problematic. Even though she started out as someone who slut-shamed other women, the story showed her overcoming that behavior.
This is so well written. I for one loved Regan. She is complex, flawed and so easy to relate to. I think we’ve all thought of ourselves as “Other” before and some of us have excepted it and some are still trying to. Other is good. Regan’s behaviours are important to her development as a character and Emery handled it in the best way possible. I didn’t question Emery’s intentions and this essay proved I wasn’t the only one who thought it was justified. Well done!
I never felt like the author slut shamed in the book but rather felt the insecurities were Reagan’s. I’ve read books that were clearly slut shaming and they turned me off, this never did.
I think authors should always show true representations of humans, we all are different and it’s best to show that in stories. Just because a writer writes about a behavior it doesn’t mean that they condone it and I believe that the majority of people will be able to decipher good behavior from bad.
I haven’t read the books yet but from the description on the quiz Reagan does sound a bit like me so I guess she fits.
I remember us talking about this awhile ago and I have to say I agreed with what you’ve said here it definitely wasn’t condoned and her actions and thoughts about other girls who weren’t her best friend were really were a reflection of her low self esteem.
[…] written by Emery Lord. If you’ve encountered her writing in Open Road Summer, or The Start of Me and You, then you’re well aware why this is reason #1 to be adding it to your […]
I haven’t read Open Road Summer. I just like honest depictions of human beings, we’re flawed, we sometimes say or do things that are hurtful or damaging to others, it may mean that a character isn’t always likeable, but at least they feel real, I’d rather read about someone with faults, than someone who’s so morally upstanding and perfect that I couldn’t possibly relate to them.
Interesting review. so that’s a book that do female friendship right and write about slut-shaming with the right perspective. I am so annoyed with books where we have either the beautiful and mean girl so it’s ok if the MC steals her boyfriend or the best female friend that is just here to make the MC seems so much better.
I haven’t read the book yet, but I’m dying to. I think it’s important for the author to be honest and open. They should be comfortable writing whatever they want. If they want to provide an example of what’s right, that’s up to them though.
Preferably both but if I had to choose one I’d rather see a positive example. Thanks for the giveaway!
Whoa, seriously awesome post! You definitely got me thinking…I think for me, personally, it’s difficult to relate with a character like Reagan, because I honestly haven’t gone through what she has and some of what she does makes me dislike her, but in no way am I saying that’s a bad thing-complex characters only convince me how much thought the author has put into portraying every side of a character. And though perhaps I may dislike Reagan at first, I could imagine growing to like her. Finally, yes, I think it’s VERY important for authors to show what’s true.
Great review, Tiff! I haven’t read Open Road Summer or any books by Emery Lord yet, but I strongly believe that it’s better to present something realistic than making a teen book into a moral for good or bad behaviour. Morals were written for young kids, and I can’t imagine that a teen would stand for the slap on the wrist that one would entail. I do think it depends on how it’s handled though, because, as you know, I’ve found some books with slut shaming to just take me completely out of the story in a bad way.
I haven’t read the book yet but I really want to. I think that girls and boys should be able to have a sex life that isn’t anyone else’s business
I got Matt Finch and surprising some of the things do ring true!
I got Matt Finch and surprising some of the things do ring true as I do enjoy the finer things. XD
I haven’t read any of her books yet, but I would say they should present a combination of both. I know it happens, thankfully I have never been a part of or heard of it personally, but I think it is important for people to understand how much any sort of gossip/shaming hurts.
Also, I got Reagan from Open Road Summer, which after reading the description, I would totally agree 🙂
I see slut shamming as in the wrong. However the author feels about a subject will translate into their work. Whatever they believe I think it is a good thing to write about it- whatever their opinion is it will be a perspective a reader can read and decide for themselves how they feel about it. That’s how reading gives you a way to think outside your comfort zone.
BTW I am Reagan!
I totally agree with you! I give Emery so much credit for writing this instance (and the entire book) so well. I loved everything about this book. The friendship, yhe romance… It was all wonderfully awesome. 🙂
I don’t think it’s the author’s job to do anything other than write about whatever issue. Whether it’s the truth or not is up to the reader. But I do think that the author should present the issue realistically, ugly or not.
I think truth because we already have people lying to us about things, maybe because their too scared to say it in person…but maybe when you’re telling a story, it’s easier. The truth is usually best, IMO
I think authors have to be honest with their readers. I don’t judge an author regardless of how the choose to communite a certain message but I encourage honesty. Books that highlight the good and the bad are important, especially for younger readers.
Anyway, I took the test and got Max from The Start of Me & You! 😀
I think a mixture of both would be the best.
I think that the slut-shaming was very true to today’s world. There’s no avoiding it because it’s real and right there. I love that she gives it to us straight and makes us think twice. The author should be able to tell us whatever she wants to tell us as long as it’s not twisted or a lie. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion!
I haven’t read Open Road Summer, though I want to soon. I think an author should present what is true and real for people, but I also wouldn’t mind them having a character call out another character if they’re shaming someone for something. I don’t want this to be like an After School Special though where there’s a “lesson” to be learned and everything is peachy at the end. I think authors can do both, present the “truth” and show what’s right.
I love this post!! I get so frustrated when readers get mad because a certain type of behaviour is present in a book. I mean, I know every reader comes to a book differently, but I am completely of the thought that just because a word is there or just because a character acts a certain way, it does not mean the author is saying “yay, let’s all do this, is the best decision ever!” Books exist to show us a character’s journey, so if a character didn’t start out with some flaws (and heck, even end the book with some flaws, because perfect people don’t exist, and perfect characters are boring) I probably wouldn’t keep reading. I absolutely agree with your interpretation of the book and I love the way you laid everything out!
(Quiz result: Max. :))
I’m Max and I totally agree. Thanks for the giveaway!
Open Road Summer wants to have a heroine like one from any E. Lockhart novel, but in Lockhart’s novels, someone is there to call out the main character’s significant flaw or she figures it out on her own somehow, which makes them easier to read about and better as a character.
[…] to always teach a moral or lesson in the book, Tiff interviewing Emery Lord about slut-shaming and previously discussing it re: Open Road Summer, and Emery Lord’s post about feminism and writing. All of these helped […]