Title: Such a Rush
Author: Jennifer Echols
Publisher: MTV Books
Other Reviews for This Author: Endless Summer; Forget You
Jennifer Echols is an author I admire based on her skillful construction of YA romance books. She's written comedy and drama and, in both cases, succeeded in bringing out a strong product high in emotional response, character individuality, and unique tone. Her comedies and dramas are completely different beasts, and it's rare that an author can work with such different tones while still maintaining a similar story type (in this case romance). It's been a while since I picked up a book by Jennifer Echols, however, and I couldn't help but take the chance and read an advanced copy of Such a Rush when I had the opportunity. Such a Rush is Jennifer's latest drama and - comparing it to my memory of my first novel of hers, Forget You - is the best one I've read of hers so far. It's so much more than a romance novel. It's a contemporary novel about a tough girl that struggles to survive in the world on her own, and it's utterly brilliant.
It is an undeniable fact that a trailer park is more likely to be located near an airport than any other landmark in an area. The rush of planes taking off and landing; the manipulation of the air sending waves that ping across the metal of the trailers. Leah Jones has known the strange combination of trailer park and airport for a long time. She's grown up with a mother that has little care for her safety or her emotional well-being, flitting from one boyfriend and trailer to the next. Every time Leah settles, they move again to a situation that seems just like the old one: her mother says that she and her boyfriend have jobs just around the corner, that they'll be able to keep a television without needing to pawn it off later to pay the rent on the trailer. That Leah's life will have stability.
Stability has yet to come, though. Leah has long known that her dreams need to be fulfilled with her own hand. Her mother has no part in making her life better because her mother is never around to make a difference in it. Her mother is the airport - the sound of the plans rushing by, the way that she lost her virginity in a field just outside of one. The way that it always seemed to be there when her mother wasn't. Leah doesn't just look to the airport and the planes as sources of comfort and stability that, unlike the grungy trailer parks and equally grungy men that inhabit them, offer a sense of adventure that doesn't threaten to engulf her life. Leah wants to work in an airport. She wants to be a pilot and finally have control over her life, as well as experience the adrenaline rush that comes with all of the risk of flying a plane thousands of feet above the Earth's surface.
Leah may only be fourteen when she starts working for Mr. Hall, but she has the drive and the spunk that he admires in someone. Leah gets regulated to the routine office work that is required of an extremely small airport like Mr. Hall's, but her dreams of flying only magnify as she spends time in the environment. She doesn't have the money to pay for the flying lessons she needs from Mr. Hall and won't take charity, but she's bound and determined to find a way to make her dreams of flight reality. Her fourteen years roll into fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. In this time, Leah experiences the complicated family dynamics that surround Mr. Hall, his ex-wife, and his three sons. Two of the Hall boys are twins around her age and wannabe pilots themselves. Neither of the boys show interest in Leah - a girl they write off as a hussy that has their father wrapped around her middle finger - until tragedy strikes, bringing Leah farther into the Hall family wing than she's ever been before. Leah then becomes the love interest of two brothers struggling to cope with the loss of loved ones, making a tough situation even more difficult when the two Hall boys are forced to realize that they made many too many wrong assumptions about Leah Jones.
I have never read a heroine quite like Leah Jones in any of the young adult novels I've come across recently. Jennifer Echols, unlike many YA authors, writes her books in the vein of a romance novel. Not a young adult romance novel, but a plain romance novel. She often has a larger focus on the relationship and development of both of the main characters without relying excessively on angst found outside the relationship in order to move it forward romantically. Forget You used outside conflict a bit more than the other Echols books I've read (amnesia isn't exactly a psychological stepping stone with someone like mistrust or a lack of commitment, after all), but Such a Rush thankfully relies on its characters and their complicated, human personalities to lead the way. Leah is interesting because she really embodies a lot of the fearless, emotionally strong heroines that young adult literature has seen coming into the wings - yet she does it in a contemporary setting, which is a lot harder to show. Paranormal novels often rely on the heroine being able to be a star fighter or spy, wherein Leah has to show her strength in other ways. Echols gives her a difficult life to work with that shapes a lot of her personality throughout the text. The absentee mother coupled with childhood loneliness and bullying make her a tough cookie. There's also the very real assumption that many make in regards to Leah, which involves sex. From a young age, boys pick on Leah sexually because they wrongly assume that her lack of money means that she's a whore. Echols doesn't just make this a one-time childhood thing. She continues it on and shows how Leah is constantly challenged by the sexism that men in her life life live by. The boy she loses her virginity to drops her like a hot potato when she has to move away, coupling up with her then-best friend. The Hall boys are initially convinced that their father kept her around as a sex-buddy instead of a genuine non-sexual friend. This makes Leah a girl that struggles with her self-image in a unique way. She knows that she's pretty but chooses to flaunt it because she understands that her person is not defined by the clothes that she wears, the money she comes from, or the way boys perceive her sexually. She deals with all of the teasing and has an imposing, thick outer shell that is resistant to a lot of outward affection. Her relationship with her best friend is extremely guarded because she worries that too much affection will ruin it. Leah's journey from this initially tough, jaded girl into a hesitantly hopeful woman is rough and breath taking. She uses her flying abilities to conquer assumptions about her as a person and to live off of the rush of adrenaline that she creates by her own expertise and control. Leah wants more than anything to be able to control her life and let down her guard, and Echols explores that so well in Such a Rush.
One cannot write a romance without creating detailed love interests. Echols has this down to a science. Such a Rush uses a similar romantic conflict to that found in the first book in her Endless Summer bind-up, which involves two attractive brothers who end up getting into dating shenanigans over the same girl. One of the brothers inevitably is attracted to her while the other is more circumstantially in her dating life. The romantic plot itself has the initial feeling of deja vu because of this similarity, but Echols establishes it as a separate conflict with the two boys in question. Grayson Hall is the definitive bad boy and, naturally, the one that Leah is set up to connect with romantically. He's an extremely tortured character by young-adult standards, having dealt with a lot of emotional upheaval that was recent to the timeline of the narrative (usually it's earlier in the hero's life, limiting the on-page angst the reader sees). So, of course he is a major douchecanoe to Leah while attempting to put his life back together. He takes on responsibility and shows his jealousy in negative ways, yet he ultimately has a lot of negative influences that have led to his behavior. This is why the attempt at getting his brother, Alec, to shack up with Leah makes the romantic conflict that much more tense. It's not necessarily a love triangle, but it's a wake-up call as to just how much of himself Grayson will sacrifice at any moment to attempt to fix the world that is crumbling around him. Alec is a victim of circumstance and isn't as conflicted as his brother. He's not so much a true romantic interest in Leah's eyes as he is a person that she has to deal with in order to explore her feelings for Grayson. He provides a foil for Grayson's character and makes him bearable. Alec is pretty much one of the few ways that the reader gets an insight into Grayson's sensitive side. The reason that such a gruff guy like Grayson manages to be appealing at the end of the book is Alec, really. The two boys are so completely different in how they handle grief and hardship that Leah gets to see just how deep their emotional reactions go. She sees the passion and the withheld emotion in Grayson, yet she also sees the way his relationship with Alec has become tense and difficult as they've dealt with their grief. The reader can believe the romance because Grayson has to come to terms with his douchey behavior and realize that he underestimated everything he thought he knew about Leah. Then there's Leah's best friend, Molly, who shows just how socially reserved Leah is. All of these characters are people struggling to live their lives. They are frustrating and awful at times, yet the reader sympathizes with them and can see just how alike Grayson and Leah are underneath their vastly different social exteriors. Echols uses this cast of central characters to show her readers just how tensions of social class and perception lead to negative attitudes and ideals that damage relationships.
Tying this all together is the actual wonder that is Echols' writing style. Her style is dramatic in its delivery in Such a Rush - the emotions are intensive and the atmosphere is strong, yet Echols never loses her characters in the process of building either of those aspects. It doesn't descend into melodrama because of the characterization. There's a reason I went on a rant about it above - it's real. The reality of this piece of fiction is what makes Echols such a great writer. She not only uses her writing style to provide a dramatic atmosphere, but she does so by highlighting the humanity within each of her characters and their universal struggles. Dealing with other surprising aspects such as rape culture and the female body image makes it that much more skilled, as young adult authors rarely tackle such difficult subjects without addressing them outright. Such a Rush goes for the subtle approach by making those key parts of who Leah is without overriding her individual self. What better way to address issues than by making them real instead of the entire subject of a character's psyche? Echols also used a lot of exposition in Such a Rush - more than in any of the stories I've read of hers so far. It's an amount of exposition that will either interest the reader or not, and that's where the only real misstep is in this book. The information that Echols provides the reader on flight is integral to the reader understanding how it works and why Leah feels the way she does while flying, yet there are so many scenes spent on flight early on in the novel that the romances and friendships don't come into a more balanced light until later on. This lack of initial balance can make the reading experience start out slow, and some readers just don't have the patience to handle all of the exposition. In my case, I enjoyed learning about the flight and felt that Echols used the exposition to benefit the novel and the characters while giving the reader a vivid image about what was going on. It was certainly better than reading a novel that just milked the premise idea without using it in the text. Flight becomes an integral connection to many of the characters and takes on its own themes and parallels with what goes on in their lives. Echols makes a strong connection with it and doesn't let up on it, which is admirable, and I can't help but be floored by how she used the exposition along with her characters to make the situations feel tangible.
Such a Rush is a contemporary novel that many young adult readers will be surprised by. It has traditional elements like the love triangle set-up and a focus on romance, yet it focuses on Leah's struggles as a girl trying to become an independent woman - and how growing up too fast has affected her life. Everyone in Such a Rush may not be likable at every moment, yet Echols infuses each of the characters with depth and heart. Nothing about this book is easy. There are no easy answers, no easy fixes to relationship issues, and no easy ways for her characters to come out of their situations without hard work and time. It shines in its ability to take a unique premise and tie it into all of the smaller details of the novel, as well as its ability to tackle a host of issues without feeling wooden or empty in its execution. Readers looking for a contemporary young adult novel that is romantic will enjoy Such a Rush, but readers looking for a young adult novel that challenges the easy path many young adult romances take will love it. I can't recommend it enough, and, of the three books I've read of hers so far, find it to be the most interesting and complex of Jennifer's novels. She is a talent that continually impresses. Readers would do well to seek out her work.
Cover: I love the dynamic of the hair and the simplicity of the font and author name, but the title is a bit too small and the girl on the cover doesn't represent Leah very well. Leah's hair is constantly described as being extremely curly, and the entire being of the model just doesn't feel (complicated? rough?) like the genuine Leah.
Rating: 5.0 Stars
Copy: Received from publisher/publicist for review (Thank you, Jillian and Simon & Schuster!)