Friday, 28 June 2013

The Journals of Kara & Jason by Charlie Wood

Publication date: 4th March 2013
Published by: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary Romance meets sci-fi (YA)

As the title suggests, this story is told through the journal entries of both the female and male protagonists, Kara and Jason.  The chapters alternate between each character giving their version of events; a format I like to use, myself.

I would say the book is in two parts.  Part 1 takes place in September 2008.  Kara Bridges is a 14 year old girl who has recently started eighth grade and is having a horrible time there.  Her best friend of 2 years, Stace, has decided to drop her without warning or explanation in favour of the popular girl.  Kara has become isolated and is on the receiving end of her former friend’s cruelty.  She feels hurt and betrayed and life sucks in general.  Her mum suggests she starts a diary so she may write about the things that are upsetting her – to get them off her chest. 

Jason Andrus is a 14 year old boy who is at Kara’s school as a foreign exchange student.  There is something unusual about him. For one thing, he dresses in clothes that were made in the 80s and 90s, for another he acts as though everyday life is alien to him.  On his first days at school none of the students talk to him, only the teachers.  He is thrilled when a student finally approaches him and introduces herself - Kara.  Jason keeps a journal too.  He is required to do so as part of his foreign exchange programme. 

A friendship begins to flourish between Kara and Jason which they both benefit from.  Kara is distracted from her former friend’s unkindness towards her.  Jason is able to find out about life in America from a native (required for a thesis he is writing).   Just as their friendship starts to blossom into something more, Jason has to return home abruptly and unexpectedly, leaving Kara hurt, alone and confused.

Part 2 takes place in February 2013.  Kara, now 18, is in her senior year of high school and soon to graduate.  She has not seen or heard from Jason since he left and she has come to terms with his departure.  One day, while walking to class she sees him standing in the corridor of her school looking taller, more handsome and grown-up, but still Jason.

For me this book started out good and continued to improve as it went on.  By the end of it I was completely blown away by just how good it was.  I absolutely loved it. 

The journal entries in part 1 read like the genuine article; they represent what it is like to be 14 years old, which I believe is the most confusing, angst ridden, and difficult part of growing up.  It is when youngsters are at their most cruel (both dishing it out and being on the receiving end). Kara’s journal in particular is honest, funny in parts and poignant in others.

The writing style of Kara’s journal entries in part 2 are different.  She comes across much more mature – as one would expect.

I did find it hard to engage with the characters; I did not feel I got to know them and I felt somewhat detached as a result.  I think the problem was that although both Kara and Jason told me a lot about each other, there was not enough evidence to allow me to draw my own conclusions.  So for example, 14 year old Kara states (repeatedly) that Jason is a kind and good person.  One of the reasons she feels this way is because he talks to her on the phone for hours and listens to what she has to say.  He offers advice and helps her see things from a different point of view.  However, we are never privy to any of those conversations.  I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall and been able to listen in.  Then I would have been able to make my own decision about Jason’s character.

I found the narrative of the last section problematic - the part that was not journal entries of either Kara or Jason but that of a third party.  It was presented as a combination of journal extracts and further descriptions (written in bold).  I found that part clunky and unfortunately it devalued the novel.  I think Jason's final journal entry would have worked better as an epilogue.  The cover design, although apt, is not 'sexy.' (I hate that word used in such a context, but by doing so I'm sure you get my drift - it may put readers off.)

It was a page-turner and I read it in a day.  My review may make it sound like a formulaic romance but don’t be fooled it is so much more than that.

I am mindful that this novel appeals to me because it combines the genre I like to write with the genre I like most to read, and it does it in a fresh and imaginative way.

This is a book I will revisit and it is going straight to my indie author "hidden treasure" book shelf.

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