Review: Point of Retreat by Colleen Hoover

Review: Point of Retreat by Colleen Hoover

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Despite that Colleen Hoover’s Slammed was a frustrating read, there was a part of me that found it strangely readable and enjoyable. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for its wholly unnecessary sequel, Point of Retreat.

Point of Retreat picks up where Slammed left off. Frankly, I was surprised to learn that there was a sequel, since the original novel ties up most of the loose ends and put the characters on a path toward happiness, despite the challenges they faced in the first novel. Despite my reservations about Slammed, I was intrigued about where Hoover would take these characters as they tackled their new independence, responsibilities and burgeoning relationship. 

In Point of Retreat, Will and Layken find themselves embroiled in even more drama, but the core of the story is two-fold:

  1. Will they ever actually have sex? *eye roll*
  2. Will Will’s evil ex-girlfriend destroy their happiness? *eye roll*

[Note: Please do not continue to read this review, should you plan on reading Slammed and want to remain unspoiled.]

[Seriously, if you don’t want to be spoiled for Slammed, don’t keep reading, okay?]

The first—no sex for a year—is absolutely absurd.

You see, before Layken’s mother died, they made her a promise. 

Before Julia passed away, we made the mistake of taking things too far, too soon—a crucial mistake on my part. It was just two weeks after we started officially dating, and Caulder was spending the night at Kel’s house. Lake and I came back to my place after a movie. We started making out on the couch, and one thing led to another, neither of us willing to stop it. We weren’t having sex, but we would have eventually if Julia hadn’t walked in when she did. She completely flipped out. We were mortified. She grounded Lake and wouldn’t let me see her for two weeks. I apologized probably a million times in those two weeks. Julia sat us down together and made us swear we would wait at least a year. She made Lake get on the pill and made me look her in the eyes and give her my word. She wasn’t upset about the fact that her eighteen-year-old daughter almost had sex. Julia was fairly reasonable and knew it would happen at some point. What hurt her was that I was so willing to take that from Lake after only two weeks of dating. It made me feel incredibly guilty, so I agreed to the promise. She also wanted us to set a good example for Kel and Caulder; she asked us not to spend the night at each other’s houses during that year, either.

Now, we know that the whole female virginity preservation plotline is one I’m just weary of, especially when it’s as random and unnecessary as it is in Point of Retreat.Essentially, Layken’s mother is orchestrating the course of their relationship from the dead. And they just accept it. This really didn’t stick with me. I mean, besides the ick factor, it doesn’t mesh with their new reality, nor the character development of the now-deceased mother in the first novel.

Layken and Will are both in the same situation: they’re raising their respective siblings while trying to make the transition to adulthood. It’s a tough road, and puts them in an adult role before either are really emotionally ready. And yet, Layken’s mother, prior to her death was inexplicably hell-bent on ensuring that her daughter and the boy she’s dating (who Julia, the mother, very much liked and was close with) keep their relationship outside the realm of adulthood. 

One of my big nitpicks in novels is when characters’ actions only serve the plot and the creation of tension, not their character development. Julia’s decree that the couple not become physically involved for a predetermined period of time makes no sense in terms of her character’s actions in Slammed. Julia trusts her 18-year old daughter to raise her brother, and yet doesn’t trust her to make wise decisions about her own relationships as she grows into a responsible adult? It just doesn’t mesh.

Furthermore, there’s an undertone to this entire scenario that niggled at me during the entire book,

She doesn‟t have to do much convincing. “Fine. I’ll be back in an hour. But all we’re doing is sleeping, okay? No tempting me.”

“No tempting, I promise,” she says with a grin.

I cup her chin in my hand and lower my voice. “Lake, I’m serious. I want this to be perfect for you, and I get really carried away when I’m with you. We only have a week left. I want to stay the night with you, but I need you to promise me you won’t put me in that position again for at least a hundred and sixty-two more hours.”

“One hundred sixty-one and a half,” she says.

Statements such as this pepper the initial chapters of Point of Retreat, and the subtext really concerned me—of course the girl can’t put the boy in that position again. Because we’re revisiting 1952, perhaps? I desperately wanted Layken to grasp some autonomy, some self-determination, and make a decision for herself beyond simply allowing her boyfriend and dead mother to pull all of the strings.  

The second key plot point—the evil ex—is simply tired and uncreative.

Will and Layken are faced with Serious Troubles in their relationship, particularly in the form of the return of Will’s ex-girlfriend, Vaughn. Naturally, instead of handling this like grownups (which, like it or not, they are), this creates massive problems , which can only be resolved by a Major Scene and Subsequent Crisis. The entire scenario—conflict, drama, resolution—reads as too simplistic for the situation the couple is facing, and seems like a tremendous distraction from the main story. Honestly, if Point of Retreat were grounded in any realism whatsoever there are many natural conflicts Will and Layken could face without the introduction of this stereotypical evil ex character.

I realize I’m being a bit sarcastic here, but this plot device is just so overdone, and completely uninteresting. Frankly, if I ever read another evil ex-girlfriend plot again, it’ll be too soon.

Furthermore, Point of Retreat is told from Will’s point-of-view, which really did not work for me as an authentic male voice.

I read a lot of male-narrated young adult fiction, and there are some wonderful examples of authentic, believable male narrators in contemporary YA. I think, perhaps, because I have read so many of these novels that really worked, that the poor execution of Will’s perspective bothered me more than it would have otherwise. Much of the time I found Will’s narration as eye-roll inducing as I did Noah’s in Pushing the Limits.

It’s been so long since we’ve been alone together without the possibility of being interrupted. I hate being in this predicament, but I love being in this predicament. Her skin is so soft; her lips are perfect. It gets harder and harder to retreat.

This is supposed to be a 22-year old male grad student. I probably have thirty passages like this highlighted in my e-reader, that just stick out as awkwardly unrealistic. I get it, he’s supposed to be this poetry slam guy who’s into words, but it just didn’t work for me and kept pulling me out of the story. 

The behavior that was drawn as romantic and endearing in Slammed that set off alarm bells for me (when Will punched another guy out of jealousy), reared its head again in Point of Retreat, when he sabatoges Layken’s car (!) so he has to give her a ride in his, trapping her with him when she’s trying to avoid him. 

“You’ve passed like three stores that sell batteries,” she says. “We need to get one now, in case it‟s too late on the way back.”

“You don’t need a battery. Your battery is fine,” I say. I avoid looking at her, but out of the corner of my eye, I can see her watching me, waiting for explanation. I don‟t immediately respond. I flick the blinker on and turn onto my grandparents‟ street. When I pull into their driveway, I turn off the car and tell her the truth. What harm could it do at this point? “I unhooked your battery cable before you tried to leave today.” I don’t wait for her reaction as I get out of the car and slam the door, I’m not sure why. I’m not mad at her, I’m just frustrated. Frustrated that she doubts me after all this time.

“You what?” she yells. When she gets out of the car, she slams her door, too. I keep walking, shielding the wind and snow with my jacket until I reach the front door. She rushes after me. I almost walk inside without knocking but remember how it feels, so I knock.

“I said I unhooked your battery cable. How else was I going to convince you to ride with me?”

“That‟s real mature, Will.” She huddles closer to the front door…

Like in the first novel, this unacceptable behavior is depicted as somehow romantic and acceptable. It absolutely is not. Now, if this pattern of behavior were addressed somehow as part of Will’s character growth, I’d be more forgiving, but it’s not. Like in Slammed, it just is. (And, again, it doesn’t make sense, as Will is largely depicted as a nice, sensitive, caring guy.)

It’s interesting that these old school behaviors are so popular in fiction—both YA and adult—these days, and it makes me extremely uncomfortable as it reinforces unhealthy relationship patterns and the tolerance of unacceptable behavior in the name of “romance” when in fact it’s controlling and disrespectful. (Thanks, Twilight.)

Eddie, my favorite character in Slammed, is redrawn in Point of Retreat and faces a very difficult path.

Again, the continuity between the two books is inconsistent. In Slammed, Eddie is strong and resilient, pushing Layken in a way that only a good friend can. In Point of Retreat, she is withdrawn and makes some questionable decisions. Now, there’s an extenuating circumstance, but it does not justify this complete about-face. And, said circumstance is resolved far too tidily for my taste. Sure, she has some challenges ahead of her, but resources magically drop in Eddie’s lap, just like they do for Layken and Will. 

A new character I quite liked—a neighbor girl with a quirky family—added some charm and humor to Point of Retreat where it was desperately needed. However, one of my big dealbreakers reared its ugly head near the end of the novel, in this case, the dreaded vegetarian randomly starts eating meat plot device.

“Nope. I got it.” She brings her plate into the living room and sits down on the floor. We all stare at her when she takes a huge bite of a chicken strip. “Oh my God, it‟s so gooood,” she says. She shoves the rest of it in her mouth.
“Kiersten, that’s meat. You’re eating meat,” I say.
She nods. “I know. It’s the weirdest thing. I’ve been dying to come over here since you guys got home so I could try some.” She takes another bite. “It’s heaven, ” she says around her mouthful. She hops up and walks to the kitchen. “Is it good in ketchup?” She brings the bottle back and squirts some on her plate.
“Why the sudden change of heart?” Lake asks her. Kiersten swallows. “Right when we were about to be hit by that truck … all I could think was how I was about to die and I’d never tasted meat. That was my only regret in life.” We all laugh. She grabs the chicken off of my plate and throws it on her own. 

Strangely, despite all of the over-the-top dramatics, this small moment was what really ruined Point of Retreat for me, keeping me from my usual, “Hey, it’s not for me, but here’s who may like this book,” approach to negative reviews. If you, like me, enjoyed Slammed (perhaps, also like me, despite yourself), I’d recommend simply letting Layken and Will’s story end for you at that book. What you’ll find in the pages of Point of Retreat is nothing but caricatures instead of character development and tired gimmicks instead of plot.

FNL Character Rating: Joe McCoy Edit - What was I thinking? The obvious rating is the season two plot of which we do not speak.

{Buy Point of Retreat at Amazon}

{Add it on Goodreads}

Other CEFS reviews of this series: Slammed

Disclosure: Review copy provided by Atria.

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