Reagan Forrester wants out - out of her trailer park, out of reach of her freeloading mother, and out of the shadow of the relationship that made her the pariah of Charytan, Kansas.
Victoria Reyes wants in - in to a fashion design program and a sorority, in to the arms of a cute guy who doesn't go to Charytan High, and in to a city where she won't stand out for being Mexican.
One thing the polar-opposite best friends do agree on is that wherever they go, they're going together. But when they set off on a series of college visits at the start of their senior year, they quickly see that the future doesn't look quite like they expected. After two years of near-solitude following the betrayal of the ex-boyfriend who broke her heart, Reagan falls hard and fast for a Battlestar Galactica-loving, brilliant smile-sporting pre-med prospective... only to learn she's set herself up for heartbreak all over again. Meanwhile, Victoria realizes everything she's looking for might be in the very place they've sworn to leave.
As both Reagan and Victoria struggle to learn who they are and what they want in the present, they discover just how much they don't know about each other's pasts. And when each learns what the other's been hiding, they'll have to decide whether their friendship has a future.
I’ve been following Dahlia on Twitter for about two years now, and she is fiercely passionate about young adult literature, diversity, feminism, and many of the things I care about, so I adore her feed. Just Visiting, though, is the first of her books that I’ve gotten to – but I’m so grateful that this was my first one, because the themes of Just Visiting are ones I care deeply about: teen girl friendship, trying to figure out your life’s work, trying to break out of bad circumstances, standing up for yourself, and yeah, okay, REALLY GOOD romance.
There are a ton of things to love about this book, but by far, the friendship between main characters Reagan and Victoria is the best part. It’s just…so realistic. They push each other’s buttons, they fight a lot, but they also challenge each other, want the best for each other, and are there for each other through EVERYTHING. It completely reminded me of my friendship with my best friend in high school – how much fighting there was, but how much we knew the other person would be there for us in a pinch.
The thing about this book is that I liked the friendship right away – but it took me a long time to really warm up to the characters. I think it’s because they were so defensive at the beginning – both Reagan and Victoria were holding back big secrets about their pasts from each other – and the reader. They’re both strong but also floundering a bit in their pasts. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first half of the book was harder to get through. Adler sets a very bleak landscape in Charytan, Kansas, the tiny town where Reagan and Victoria live. Charytan is the ultimate in small-town attitudes, with people teasing Victoria because of her ethnicity and jeering at Reagan because of – well, we don’t really know at the beginning of the novel, but let’s just say Reagan is an outcast for a number of things, one of the biggest being her desire to get out of the town.
What really got me was how desperate Reagan was to leave, and how much the town, her parents, and the people around her push her down. As someone who didn’t grow up with a lot of money issues, I can’t say from experience whether it was authentic or not, but it absolutely felt like it was (it’s also in line with all of the articles on poverty in America I’ve read). The feeling that Reagan is trying to be “better” than everyone else, the pride in the town and the feeling that by trying to make something of herself, she’s shaming the town, the bullying and slut-shaming of Reagan…just WOW. It completely made sense why Reagan closed herself off to other people, why she hid behind snarky remarks, and why she was scared when, for the first time in her life, she met a guy she really liked.
The one person she does open up to is her best friend, Victoria, who has a dream of going off to college with Reagan and studying fashion in a place where her ethnicity isn’t the first thing people notice about her. Victoria doesn’t have as much of a goal as Reagan at the beginning and I loved how much she changes through the book. While Reagan’s journey is mostly emotional, Victoria’s is more external, leading to her taking steps to figure out what she really loves. It was just…heartening to see her getting it together, becoming the stronger half of the friendship.
One of my only issues with the book is a writing thing – there were moments when Adler would use a pronoun and I wouldn’t know which character she was referring to. For instance, in this scene, I actually got confused by who “she” was:
Then I head upstairs to find Rae sprawled on the tile floor of my bathroom. “You don’t have to stay here with me,” she whimpers, as if I would even think about leaving her alone right now. As if despite all the secrets she’s kept from me, I don’t at least know her better than that.
“Shh.” I hand her a glass of water I’ve just brought up from the kitchen, where my mother’s taking another stab at churros. It’s killing me to lie to her, and I think she suspects I am, but she know not to pry right now…
On paper and out of context, it seems pretty easy to understand that the “her” in the second sentence of the second paragraph would refer to Victoria’s mother, but as I was reading, I tripped over that and a few other sentences where I wasn’t sure who the pronoun referred to. It just took me out of the reading a bit. That said, it’s a pretty small writing thing for a book that definitely exceeded my expectations!
While it took me a LONG time to finish this book – far longer than it probably should have because I was going through a major reading slump while reading – AND this book had the difficult job of making me like it after the longest and most epic book I’ve read this year – I’m so glad to say that it more than succeeded. It’s GOOD, guys.
Life Choices: I loved how the book explored many different choices for high school seniors – whether that was community college, working in skilled trades, big university, little liberal arts school, the army, travelling…and while there was some judgment from the characters, it was clear that the book and the author condoned ALL of them as valid choices. Even though I went the traditional route to students at my high school (four-year university) and it was the right choice for me, I wish that, as a teen, I had known that so many other options existed and it was okay to explore them and even choose them.
Road Trip: If you know me, you know I’m obsessed with the road trip YA – this one had, like, five road trips, and most were college visits. It was just awesome to see that side of senior year explored – and how much and little the actual visits/road trips it mattered to the various characters.
The Final Word:
Just Visiting was a really solid read about something I haven’t seen much of in YA: the choices that we have to make after high school. While the first half of this book was a harder read for me, pushing me to understand Reagan and Victoria’s characters and realize how fully developed they are, the second half of the book…WOW. The pacing stepped up, the characters deepened, and I was completely invested. And Just Visiting was never predictable – it stayed one step ahead of me through the second half, putting me through the wringer and making me work to get to the conclusion. If you’re a contemporary reader, this is one you really need to pick up.