by Sharon Flake
To be released October 1, 2012.
Thank you to NetGALLEY for providing the ARC to review!
Autumn is a superb wrestler who struggles with reading and school in general, a problem which may prevent her from competing in the state wrestling championship. Adonis was born without legs, and an extraordinarily high intelligence who struggles with nothing except his humility. In the simple, truncated voice of Autumn, and the precise, smug voice of Adonis, the reader quickly learns that Autumn “loves” Adonis, despite the fact that Adonis seems to hate her. In fact, Autumn’s relentless indifference to Adonis’s snide remarks and self-centeredness seems to only cement her resolve to have Adonis as a boyfriend. In her eyes (and in his) Adonis is perfect.
Flake does an excellent job showing how a person’s opportunities and their family background can shape a person’s values. For instance, Adonis, even after losing his father at an early age, has a highly educated mother who has taught him that, despite his disability, Adonis is not at a disadvantage in the world. This, coupled with his natural intelligence, help him to succeed. Yet, “looking good” is a priority for Adonis. At one point, while admiring his reflection in the mirror, he describes his appearance as “perfect.” Clearly, appearance is all that is important to Adonis; in his own words he equates appearance with “integrity.” However, Adonis has little integrity. He doesn’t value people. He judges others ruthlessly. He considers himself above the “regulars.” He is a self-absorbed snob who gives to no one.
On the other hand, Autumn’s parents are high school dropouts who work hard to provide for their child. Yet even when they try to support Autumn and encourage her to focus on her academics as well as her wrestling, they are unable to help her because they themselves are poorly educated. Yet, Autumn has integrity and at times seems wise beyond her years. She doesn’t cheat to get what she wants as some do. And rather than immediately announce plans to improve her situation that she does not intend to carry out, she waits until she is ready to face the challenge, then seeks the support of otherss by announcing her plan. Perhaps most admirable, Autumn doesn’t value others based on their physical appearance the way Adonis does. She simply doesn’t stand in judgment of others, even when they have done wrong. She’s a giver whose heart is pure. She is a selfless, humble athlete.
Perhaps Flake’s purpose in the novel is to show how Autumn’s purity, her longsuffering, and her patience with Adonis’ imperfections changes him. However, Autumn’s tolerance of Adonis’ rudeness (she takes a stand only once when he belittles her) is hard to accept. What is more troubling is the fact that Autumn seems to virtually stalk Adonis at the start of the novel, and then accepts and encourages his secretive nature about their friendship later. Instead of creating an image of Autumn as a strong, healthy and independent protagonist with a pure heart, Autumn comes off as a desperate girl with very low self-esteem. Instead of Adonis turning out to be a more humble, changed boy, he comes off as being even more concerned with what others think and his beloved image—at best he is simply confused, but unchanged. However, despite its thematic shortcomings, the novel does reflect the reality of many young relationships. Perhaps this lack of sugarcoating is the novel’s appeal and redemption.