Our friendly marketing department wants you to know this about the book:
When Neil, Leah's warm and loving step-father, reveals that his cancer is no longer in remission, Leah finds comfort in a visit to Amish country to see her true love, Ethan. When Ethan chooses to leave his life on the farm, he moves in with Leah and her family. But once Ethan arrives, they realize that his Amish values are quite different from those of Leah's complex "English" world. Will their love help, or hurt, Leah as she faces the complex hurdles that await her?If you guys are HOLY HELL SHOCKED about Neil's cancer, well, you aren't alone! But be patient, my loves, I'm getting there. First, let's look at the beautiful cover:
Leah's pretty! Ethan's still in his sort of Amish, sort of English clothes. But don't worry, you guys, there's a buggy in the background, so you won't get confused as to what kind of story this is.
Also, doesn't this sort of look like a Little Golden Book with that weird ass border on the left side?
I really wish I could promise you guys this book would be as entertaining and intelligent and moving as just THE COVER of the Shy Little Kitten is, but I don't feel right misleading the public.
Again, nowadays this book is part of a prepackaged trilogy:
So the beginning of this book is like a friggin' trainwreck in progress. I know Lurlene has been going more and more for just starting a book right in the midst of things (Leah already in the hospital for her broken finger, for just one example), plus I know enough about basic book-writing to be aware that it generally is best to open on the action of an important event (i.e. why should this book begin this day of all days) but OH MY GOD LURLENE THIS IS NUTSO EVEN FOR YOU:
"Leah, we need to talk." [Yes, this is how the book opens!]But she doesn't mean, like, marital problems. NEIL HAS CANCER. NEIL HAS HAD CANCER. WAIT WHAT? Neil had cancer long ago, before his first wife died. Also, you guys, Neil is really old! He's sixty-eight! This keeps getting hammered in, with talk of an age difference and the fact that he's a widower, and on and on. OKAY THIS IS THE THIRD BOOK SO WHY ARE WE JUST LEARNING OF NEIL'S AGE? Did Lurlene just realize she wanted to throw in this old age/cancer subplot so she turned Neil old?
Leah Lewis-Hall flicked off the TV [back when I was in Catholic grade school, we said 'flicking off' instead of 'flipping off' so I just got an awesome mental picture involving television and Leah's extended middle finger] and gave her mother her full attention. "What's up?" She knew something was wrong. For days, her mother had seemed edgy and uncommunicative. Most unlike herself. Leah's mother usually had something to say about everything. When Leah had come home from school that day, the house had been empty and there had only been a terse note: Neil and I will be back before supper.
Her mother sat down on the edge of the sofa. "I'm sure you've noticed that things haven't been exactly normal around here lately." [Mmm, how I like a piping hot fresh cup of exposition so early on in a book!]
"Are you and Neil having problems?" Leah asked, fearing the worst.
. . .
"Yes, we're having problems," her mother said.
Okay, you guys, I have a confession, and I might as well come clean about it right now. At the same time I was reading this book, I was reading the absolutely lovely Sweethearts by my current Y.A. hero Sara Zarr. This book also featured a really nice stepdad who moved a mother and daughter out of financial hardship to upper middle-class comfort. It also featured A BOYFRIEND NAMED ETHAN. Now, Zarr writes really beautiful prose, believable characters, refreshing and new plotlines. But YOU CAN SEE HOW I WOULD OCCASIONALLY GET A LITTLE CONFUSED. I feel like I owe Zarr ten boxes of her favorite candy to apologize for this, but it's the truth, and you guys know how super committed I am to the truth. Anyways, I am going to do my best to keep the two books straight! You guys just deserve the warning. Also, again, Sara Zarr, I am so, so very sorry. I promise I will never, ever again confuse one of your books with something in the Lurleneverse.
Anyway, back to Neil's cancer. He's in the friggin' hospital! It's really bad! Leah's PISSED OFF. I mean, worried, but PISSED OFF. Why, she wonders, didn't anyone ever tell her that her stepdad has battled the same disease she did? Why didn't he help prepare her for what she had to go through? Why was there such epic dishonesty? Oh, they kept MEANING to tell her, but there was just NEVER A GOOD TIME.
OH MY GOD YOU GUYS WHAT???
I totally do not believe Lurlene ever had any clue Neil was A) old or B) cancerous. Considering book two in the trilogy JUST SORT OF ENDED, I doubt she was all set to go on the third book's plot, outside of lots of YA romance crap between Leah and Amish-or-will-he-go-English Ethan and, you know, ANGELS. So then she was all "OH CRAP WHAT ELSE CAN THIS BOOK BE ABOUT" and spun her little Wheel of Lurleneverse, and it totes landed on SOMEONE (ELSE) HAS CANCER.
Leah and her mom go to visit Neil at the hospital. Guess what his doctor is named???
Dr. Howser!!! AWESOME.
So Neil asks for some time alone with Leah, and he tries to be all "NO IT'S TOTALLY OKAY I NEVER TOLD YOU ABOUT MY CANCER EVEN THOUGH YOU HAD CANCER TOO" but she's not having it. Seriously! This is so stupid I want to scream. Neil promises to be honest in the future.
Leah writes her Amish beau Ethan a letter about this news, and laments that IF ONLY HE WEREN'T AMISH because then she could just call, text, email, IM, Facebook 'poke', MySpace message, or tell him to check her LiveJournal for a filtered post. You guys, I would never survive dating the Amish.
Leah's back in school, and apparently her only friend is this girl named Sherry. Is Sherry cool and popular? Well, of course not:
Sherry was overweight, and therefore not on the social A-list.OH MY GOD LURLENE HATES THE OVERWEIGHT. You know, I'm not saying popular cliques are chock-full of kids representing the entire body size spectrum, but there are usually one or two overweight kids who are super cool/popular/whatever for reasons that have nothing to do with maintaining a size 0 figure. Whatever, I know yelling at Lurlene for sizism is lame when there are so many worse offenders in the YA genre, I just think that "therefore" is a little inaccurate. I'm just glad Sherry's a nice girl and not always, like, written shoving food into her mouth.
So I like that the subject of dudes comes up, and Sherry asks if Leah has one, and she's all, "yeah, I do, but he's Amish, so it's totes complicated". I seriously hate how many books I've read where the protags won't cop up to their romantic lives for one reason or another, so it's refreshing that this is just a no-brainer to Leah. Of course, after getting through Neil's Big Cancer Deception, she's probably going through a big truth phase.
So Leah goes to hang out with Neil and her mother at the hospital, where two notable things occur. Firstly, THERE'S A WOMAN DOCTOR IN THE LURLENEVERSE. HURRAH! Secondly, Neil refers to Leah as his daughter, not his stepdaughter. This pleases her. It's pretty sweet. I like Neil, despite his rapid aging and plot-convenient cancer.
The doctor tells them there is evidence of cancer in Neil's liver, and Leah's mom is all I DON'T BELIEVE YOU FOOLS! which, just, oh my god, I get there's a stage of denial, but Leah's mom just seems more like an idiot. Neil is able to talk some sense into her, whew. We're so lucky to have Neil, you guys. FOR NOW.
Ethan writes back to Leah and lets her know how sorry he is. He is still dressing English on the weekends (that sounds like a euphemism, though for what I'm not sure). Also he adds this delightful P.S.:
P.S. Charity says that I am to tell you hello. Hello.UM DOES LURLENE UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OLD-FASHIONED AND STUPID?
Neil comes home from the hospital, and will do chemo on an outpatient basis. I mean, I'm sure he's gonna be fine, you guys, right?
Leah and Sherry are talking about their respective boy problems (Amish, a jock asshole who hates the unpopular and overweight), when Sherry lets out this gem:
"If only boys thought like girls instead of boys."Um WHAT? I mean, I get what she's saying, because there are so many girls whose friends see their beauty and whom guys don't seem to notice, but, trust me, Sherry, the boys who think more like girls when it comes to dating are really, really not going to be into you. (Though they will happily take you out to meet boys together.) I was just wondering if gay people even EXIST in the Lurleneverse, but then I remembered Brian's uncle WHO DIED. (Then again, Lurlene kills off enough heterosexual people I doubt she's making a statement there. Still, one gay character, one death, lookin' a little bad to me, Lurlene.)
So this dude that Sherry's into is described as having "hands as large as ham hocks". WHAT THE HELL IS WITH THE BIZARRE HAND METAPHORS?
Neil is doing okay with his chemo, but it's exhausting him, and he can't keep up with his collection of antique cars like he wants. He wants Leah to help him sell them, but she urges him to keep them. Aw, I would too, and not just because I'd totes be in complete denial (but not the stupid kind afflicting Leah's mom). Neil asks about Leah's college plans, and she's all, oh, pish posh, college, I don't really like school. Hey, what happened to being interested in nursing, Leah? This is such a badly-planned trilogy.
So I know this is a really middle-class view of mine, but considering that Leah easily falls into that in these books, and considering quite a few of Lurlene's heroines do, I think it's weird college is seen as something SOME people do. When I was in high school, everyone was pretty much expected to go to college unless they were, like, seriously academically-challenged (and even those kids were encouraged to go to community college or whatever). I think it's seriously badly-researched/imagined on Lurlene's behalf that college wouldn't be basically an automatic thought, most especially when she's dealing with kids of a certain class or above (which isn't to say I think college should be limited to certain classes, I just know it's sort of ridiculous to paint the image of wealthy ol' Neil and all of his cars, and yet Leah without a thought in the world about college).
Leah is reflecting back on her other stepfathers, and how friggin' awesome Neil is:
She'd never had a stepfather like Neil. The others had been imitations, men who had been indifferent to her - or worse, overly friendly.AND THEN THAT IS DROPPED. WHAT WHAT WHAT. "Overly friendly"? Was Leah, like, molested? Was there just inappropriate, like, leering? How can you just throw something like that in and never get to it again? That is kind of a big fucking deal, Lurlene! Seriously, I know I've mocked every one of Lurlene's books I've read so far, but this book is sooo poorly-written I'm just kind of blown away. The prose itself is fine, nothing special, but in general not cringe-worthy, but the fact that this book seems to have been entirely conceived long after the first two were written is sort of troublesome. Use a fucking outline, Lurlene.
So of course Leah's missin' her man soooo much, so she decides to spend the week after Christmas with Kathy in Nappanee. Considering Neil's health, I'm sort of surprised her mom just lets her go, but she does, and YAY ETHAN. Or something. These kids are mighty happy to see each other, but there have been a lot of changes for Ethan. He got his drivers license! And now he lives in Football Hands's party apartment. Leah also learns that Charity is so pissed off about Football Hands's rumspringa doings that she won't date him any longer. Charity, you were the one so eager for an, albeit, temporary English makeover, but, whatever. I'm just glad she's come to her senses about him.
Leah and Ethan attend an Amish-acting-English party while she's there, and Ethan confides in her that he wants her help to track down his shunned brother Eli. Wait, this clarifies that since Eli was never technically baptized, he isn't technically being shunned. So basically, him and his family are just assholes. Leah agrees to help, and says they'll go to Neil, because Neil knows how to do everything. You know, I really like Neil, and I like the relationship between Leah and Neil, but I'm not crazy about how Leah and her mom were totes helpless before the big, strong, rich man came along and made them a proper family, or how Leah goes to Neil for basically everything now. Couldn't there be anything Leah's mom is good at, besides saying dumbass things to medical professionals? Whatever, I'm wanting way too much out of the Lurleneverse.
So of course Leah doesn't want to leave, and Ethan doesn't want her to, but obviously she has to. So Leah comes up with the genius idea that Ethan can come back with her and stay in her basement for awhile. Someone's been watching too much Roseanne! Ethan agrees, and they go to tell his parents. His father's reaction involves a description of his big hands which, seriously, WTF is up with all the big hands in this series? His mother offers up this advice:
"Remember the words of our Lord," she said. "'You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?'"I know it's a metaphor, and it's from the bible, but, please, salt CANNOT lose its saltiness, okay? It is saltiness embodied! I mean... it's SALT. Way to choose a weird passage, Ethan's mom.
Finally they leave right away for Leah's. When they arrive, the power's out, so of course Ethan's all YEAH IT DOESN'T BOTHER ME YOU CRAZY ENGLISH PERSON I DON'T NEED NO STINKING ELECTRICITY.
How do they keep warm?
"We can do as the Amish do," Ethan said. "We can bundle."Yeeeeaahhh, I'm sure they do. You know what else keeps you warm, and doesn't require any electricity unless you've got some specific fetishes?
"How do we bundle?"
"It's an old Amish custom, not always approved of by parents and elders. But when dating, a boy and his girl will lie in bed together. They do not remove their clothes, but they spend the night in each other's arms."
Leah's jaw dropped. "This is an Amish custom?"
"Sex without marriage is forbidden," Ethan quickly added.
"I'd guess so. But--wow--doesn't bundling sort of invite trouble?"
Ethan chuckled. "Winters are long and very cold. Amish couples do it to keep warm."
Finally the power comes back on, and Leah and Ethan have New Year's with lots of TV and junk food. Sound ideal! Leah's mom and Neil arrive home to find them asleep in front of the TV and are TOTES PISSED. They assume the kids were doin' it and... got dressed and fell asleep... in the living room... with a bunch of junk food? Also, um, if you guys are that freaked about the possibility of Leah having sex, WHY DID YOU LET HER RENT AN APARTMENT ALONE FOR THE WHOLE SUMMER FOR THE SOLE PURPOSE OF BEING NEAR HER BOYFRIEND?
Are you guys sick of me pointing out what a shoddily-written trilogy this is yet? Because this is a really shoddily-written trilogy.
Luckily Neil steps in (YAY NEIL ALL-POWERFUL MAN CREATURE) and believes Leah and gets Leah's mom to believe her too. Ethan gets to stay and help around the house. He's put in charge with taking care of Neil's prized cars, so that Neil can keep them but in the condition they deserve.
Leah tells her mom she's helping Ethan find his brother because she too knows what it's like lack for a family. Her mom's all "I WAS your family!" and Leah actually says, "You worked." OH MY GOD. NO, LEAH, NO, THAT IS SO NOT OKAY TO SAY. YOUR MOM LOVED YOU AND WANTED THE BEST FOR YOU AND GUESS WHAT NONE OF THAT IS FUCKING FREE.
So Ethan gets a part-time job with the local vet, because he is so good with animals and loves them so much (first I'm hearing of it, but fine). He's really settling into this English lifestyle, and Leah's fam loves him! But that's the only good thing goin' for Leah's family; Neil's cancer is back! It's worse! OH NOES! Neil tells her she'll have to take care of her mother, who'll be in denial (SHOCKING I KNOW), and then goes on to tell her the whole reason her mother left her father is that her father suffered from paranoia and was dangerous!! Her beloved grandmother thought her mom was totes wrong and tried to sue for custody! That's why there was all that pesky estrangement! Leah's mind is BLOWN. Goddammit, doesn't anyone in this family ever talk to each other? Good thing Neil is around.
Leah confronts her mother, and learns her mother kept marrying richer and richer men to improve their station in life. And she's all "Oh, okay then!" WHAT? So you totes disrespect her for WORKING, but marrying for money is cool? This is pretty fucked up stuff.
(By the way, randomly, Lurlene refers to gossip at school as "scuttlebutt". PLEASE TELL ME ONE HIGH-SCHOOLER YOUNGER THAN ONE-HUNDRED WHO HAS EVER SAID THIS.)
Neil tracked down Eli! Of course he did; Neil can do anything. It was really difficult because Eli changed his name to Elias. Oh, yeah, that'd complicate things. Seriously, there is no mention of the internet in this book, and since it was written in 1999, that's wicked stupid. Lurlene, you are frustrating me somethin' fierce.
Ethan and Leah go to visit Eli/as, and the boys are totes thrilled to see each other. Eli/as has a wife, Camille, who's a Mennonite, a fact Ethan knows would piss off his parents. THOSE HEATHEN RULE-BENDING MENNONITES. Eli/as and Camille have two sons, Timmy and Jason. Eli/as is soooo over being Amish, but Ethan urges him to at least visit the fam again, since he was not OFFICIALLY shunned. Eli/as isn't up for it. But Eli/as urges Leah to go to college, and Leah urges him to talk to his family, and they both promise to consider the other's POV. Okay then!
When Leah and Ethan arrive home, they find a note that Neil is in the hospital. OH NOES. Though does anyone have a cell phone in the Lurleneverse? If my daughter drove around as much as Leah does AND HAD ONCE HAD CANCER I'd give her a fucking cell phone. Also think of all the fun Lurlene could have had making Ethan amazed at the technology of a cell phone!
So Neil is going to die. Oh DAMN. Despite him being, like, proof that every family needs a man to make it count, I actually like Neil. After he dies, Leah says, "I love you, Neil," then realizes that name isn't "enough" and calls him Daddy. It's sweet, except there's nothing lacking about, ya know, calling someone Neil v. Daddy. Right? I dunno. It's not like Leah's mom calls him some special love-name instead of Neil, right? Why am I getting hung up on this, it's such a nice moment! I guess I just think stepparents can be just as loved as parents, and you don't have to say they've moved on from being "just" a stepparent to get that kind of love. Well, you know, outside of the Lurleneverse.
Leah finds out Neil left all his cars to her with instructions to sell them so she can go to college. Neil, that's pretty awesome of you. Aren't you shocked, Neil, that Gabriella didn't show up to usher you into heaven? I mean, it happened to Rebekah, and also this is a friggin' ANGELS TRILOGY with NO SIGN OF AN ANGEL IN THE CONCLUSIVE VOLUME YET. You guyyyys, this is such sloppy writing.
Leah is anxious to share her news with Ethan, but when she finds him... HE'S DRESSED AMISH. Oh man! You can take the boy out of Nappanee, but you can't take the Nappanee out of the boy. He promises her she was not part of his fling, but part of his life, and says she'll be in his heart "until angels close [his] eyes". WHAT? THAT IS ALL THE ANGELNESS WE'RE GETTING IN THIS BOOK? There is a fucking DEATH and yet this is IT? Lurlene, geez, this is pathetic. I had no clue I could still find it within my heart to be disappointed in you.
Except... the book ends with Leah realizing her and her mom ARE a family, just the two of them. FINALLY LEAH! FUCKING FINALLY! It took you long enough, and was not exactly the kind of conclusion this book called for since, you know, THERE WEREN'T ANY GODDAMN ANGELS.
I'm just shocked a heroine in the Lurleneverse WHO HAD CANCER made it through three books alive. Hooray for very, very small miracles.
No pun intended.