Review: Things I Can't Forget by Miranda Kenneally

Rating: 4 stars
Pub Date: March 1, 2013
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Genre: contemporary romance, young adult/new adult (straddles the line), chick lit
Format/Source: Paperback, my own copy
Status: Book 3 of the Hundred Oaks series. This is techinally a companion series, but each book features a new protagonist and will spoil the preceeding books. So no, you don't have to read Catching Jordan or Stealing Parker, but Things will tell you how each ended. Just fyi.

Kate has always been the good girl. Too good, according to some people at school—although they have no idea the guilty secret she carries. But this summer, everything is different…

This summer she’s a counselor at Cumberland Creek summer camp, and she wants to put the past behind her. This summer Matt is back as a counselor too. He’s the first guy she ever kissed, and he’s gone from a geeky songwriter who loved The Hardy Boys to a buff lifeguard who loves to flirt--with her.

Kate used to think the world was black and white, right and wrong. Turns out, life isn’t that easy…

I have to give Kenneally credit: religion is a HARD topic to broach in current literature, especially in fiction and particularly in young adult at that. I think of it as the last great topic we have left. Race, sexual orientation, gender, politics...these topics have all been brought to light fairly equally in ya, but I think religion is sooo much harder because how intensely passionate people are about it. Not that we aren't intense or passionate about the other things as well, but there's a...I don't know, more personal aspect to one's view of religion. I guess because religion or spirituality in general is more sacred to religious folk than their race or gender. Not always, but usually. I mean, I consider myself to be religious (one of the reasons I enjoyed this read so much), and white girl jokes don't bother me as much as wayward comments about my beliefs. I can't speak for everyone, but this has been my experience. Also, there's still a feeling that if an author discusses religion in a ya novel, they're pressing their personal beliefs on you (be honest: how many of you have made that comment about Twilight?) and thus the subject seems to be somewhat taboo. I am impressed with Kenneally's ability to balance and intertwine religion with other more typical ya fare like views on teen sex, homosexuality, friendships, etc. After all, one's system of beliefs is usually what shapes and defines one's views on those topics.

One of the first things I noticed about Things was that this seems to be much more like a sequel of Stealing Parker than just another book in the Hundred Oaks companion series. SP and Things just have a lot more in common with one another than either really has with Catching Jordan, even though characters mingle in each of the novels (yes, to all wondering, Jordan and Henry and even Jake Reynolds, JJ and Carter make an appearance). Part of that is that Jordan and her boys weren't main characters in SP but Parker and Drew are definitely main characters in Things and have a huge impact on the story. In SP, we see how Parker deals with her spirituality after a family crisis that shook her faith in God, her friends, and herself (spoiler: she deals with it with boys...but maybe not how you expect). Now, in Things, we learn Kate's story. She's a good Christian girl, but she sided with the anti-Parker mob. That in itself is an interesting situation as the two girls are now camp counselors and have to get along, but the main story deals with Kate's inner turmoil over having helped her best friend Emily with an abortion.

I could totally identify with Kate. I know what it's like to feel utterly alone, even when surrounded by people. I know what it's like to have faith, to have your beliefs rock-solid, only to witness others who supposedly have that same faith, those same convictions, behave in a manner that is totally contrary. I know what it's like for people to call you judgmental. I know what it's like to fall completely head over heels in first love and not know where to draw the line, how to keep the balance between physical wants and desires and the teachings you have always held to be true. All these emotions swirl around in Kate's heart and thoughts and the inner tension is amazing and believable, although, yeah, sometimes I wanted to smack Kate and say, "Wake up, girl!" The best thing about Kate is her ability to reevaluate her convictions based on advice given from reliable sources (her dad, Parker, Will, Matt) as well as her relationship with God and then decide what she thinks/believes/feels. Some people stick to their guns no matter what, even if they're wrong. Kate tries to figure it out for herself and sees that sometimes, other people's business is just that.

Matt is fantastic. Not only is he cute and just plain darling with his guitar-playing, no-shoe-wearing ways, but he's a good influence on Kate. He shows her how you can balance a religious life with other things like being a member of a fraternity. I think that stems from having a great family (Kenneally is REALLY good at writing fantastic families for her boy characters, I have realized, because I totally want to be part of both Matt's and Will's!). Somehow twenty seems old for a ya, but when I look back on my college years, I don't find it so difficult to imagine Matt in college (and MY college at that! Yay, MTSU mention!). He seems very well-rounded as a character to me.

After Jordan and Henry received fairly small mentions in SP, I was expecting the same treatment for Parker and Will, but I was pleasantly surprised that they garnered a lot of page time. I think it's cool that Parker and Will each had a separate relationship with Kate, although they're very new-couplish and therefore slightly like an amoeba in that they don't want to be apart and all that other gushy romantic stuff that the newly relationshipped adore and the crusty and slightly bitter single people despise. I think Parker and Kate both needed more female friendships (heck, Kate just needed more friends period because it didn't seem like she had any aside from Emily in the Before parts) so it was great watching them work out their tension. Yay for girls being nice to each other!
I also really liked the supporting cast like Ian, Carlie, and Brad. Even weird or obnoxious or straight-up mean characters Eric, Megan, and Andrea had a lot to add. I was always rooting for the "bad" characters to get bitten by a snake and die, but they were important and carried out their roles as baddies well, which is a success.

My one big complaint is that the pacing I think this is one novel that would have benefitted from a little more length, which is something I usually don't say. I actually would have liked more scenes during each week. Maybe a bit more with campers, more scenes of Kate and Matt actually falling in love, definitely more Ian, more Brad (who I felt was the throwaway character, the least utilized, and his side story was actually quite intriguing), possibly more Carlie. I almost thought more of a resolution with Megan and wtf is up with Eric, but Eric was not interesting to me and Megan was enough of a pain in the butt that she's completely realistic in her unrealistic expectations of the people around her. She's a good example of a bad boss that panders to the equally pain-in-the-butt coworker(s) that everyone experiences in his/her life.

All in all, Things I Can't Forget is a really good read. It's different from CJ and SP, which I could glean from the title lacking parallel structure (I'm big on that) and diverting from the gerund-name format. Things also seems much more internal overall than the others, and definitely darker with themes of religion, abortion, suicide (it's only mentioned once, but I felt the weight of it throughout the story), sex, and, occasionally, an outright hostile work environment (ironic because it was CHURCH CAMP, something that baffled and frustrated Kate). This is definitely no light-hearted rom-com of a contemporary story or even a tear-jerking Nicholas Sparks type story. It's at times very heavy, but there are sweeter, lighter moments to break it up. I think this is a good story to ponder and mull over. It's a solid performer for Kenneally and will hold up as the middle book of the Hundred Oaks series. I only hope that Racing Savannah is as good or better as the first three!

Recommended for: anyone searching for a good religious ya story, or rather, a good ya story with religion as a primary theme
Not recommended for: the younger end of the ya scale, although they need to learn this stuff too, I just can't picture a 13-year old fully grasping the big picture.

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About the Author:
Growing up in Tennessee, Miranda Kenneally dreamed of becoming an Atlanta Brave, a country singer (cliché!), or a UN interpreter. Instead she writes, and works for the State Department in Washington, D.C., where George W. Bush once used her shoulder as an armrest. Miranda loves Twitter, Star Trek and her husband.
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