The TV said you should ignore bullies and they would stop harassing you. In practice this worked about half the time. The other half, you ended up with two tall boys shadowing you through a trailer park, their fingers taking little nips at your clothes, like dogs.
At first glance, Jennifer Echols’ new YA novel, Such a Rush, has all the tell-tale signs of a typical YA romance: two attractive boys, absent parents and high-stakes drama.
And, yet, between the covers (and what a gorgeous cover it is), you’ll find a sensitively-crafted story of an 18-year old girl, who’s never had it even remotely easy, trying to figure out what sort of person she’s going to be.
Leah is a girl who’s grown up in trailer parks, most of which have been by airports. She lives with her mother who floats from town to town based on promises from each new boyfriend—promises that never come to fruition. Often facing eviction because her mother rarely works, Leah’s life has always been in upheaval. That is until at age 14, she and her mother move into the trailer park next to the Heaven Beach Airport.
Leah’s world opens up when she gets a job working in the office at Hall Aviation, a company that tows banners in the air up and down the beach. Mr. Hall, the owner, takes Leah under his wing (ha! puns!) after she starts saving her paychecks for flying lessons. Eventually, after years of working at Hall Aviation and flying with Mr. Hall, Leah is eighteen and ready to start working as a banner plane pilot she graduates—it’s her ticket to a better future.
However, all of those dreams are threatened when Mr. Hall dies of a heart attack shortly after his oldest son is killed while serving in the military and the Hall twins, Grayson and Alec, take over the business.
Leah is certain that Grayson and Alex cannot keep the business going, so she starts looking for another pilot job—her best bet being working as a crop-duster pilot for another company at the same small private airport. Those plans are derailed when Grayson (the trouble-making, reckless twin that Leah’s always crushed on from afar) blackmails Leah into flying for Hall Aviation during spring break. Oh, and she doesn’t just have to fly for the company—she has to try to date his brother (the golden boy).
Okay, so I know that sound likes a triangulated love fest, but it’s not—I swear.
Such a Rush isn’t about Leah choosing between these two boys, though there is a very compelling, dramatic Echolsian Romance (I may or may not have just made up that brilliant term). In the beginning, it’s very clear which brother Leah has chemistry with, and that’s Grayson. Which is why the whole blackmail thing is particularly assholish.
But, what struck me about the romance aspect of Such a Rush is what lingers in all of Echols’ dramatic novels: the characters are flawed people who need to figure out who they are. Through figuring themselves out, they’re also able to plant the seeds of mature relationships. Echols’ characters have flaws—significant ones—but they still deserve to love and be loved. Leah is a difficult personality. Because of her transient background and lousy family life, she’s reluctant to make connections, and seems ready to push away anyone who cares about her out of her life. She puts on a tough act, and projects the outward image as the trashy girl from the wrong side of the tracks, with her tough talk,
This trailer is set to self destruct when it senses an IQ that low.
And yet, we know thanks to the excellent first-person narration, that Leah is plagued by self-doubt, that her biggest fear is that she actually is the trashy girl she pretends to be—that she’s just like her mother. And that’s what really struck me about Such a Rush: the contrast between Leah’s confident, tough-girl act that everyone sees and the fears and doubts that plague her. I think that’s what makes her a relatable character.
Another thing that I love about Jennifer Echols’ novels is that the girls in her books do things.
“Most people hear an airplane in the sky and think, ‘There’s an airplane,’ and go back to what they were doing. A few folks look around for the airplane, try to figure out what kind of plane it is, and watch it from the time they spot it to the time it disappears on the horizon, maybe after that. Those kids are the ones who will be pilots.” He pointed at me. “I knew that about you. I’ve just been waiting for you to show up.”
I know that sounds ridiculous, but in each and everyone one of her stories, the girls are involved in their lives in a rich way. Whether it’s snowboarding in The Ex-Games (so funny) or swimming in Forget You (so swoony), there’s more going on in these girls’ lives than just boy problems. And it’s done in a way in which these things don’t read like window dressing—there’s passion for something. And, I love that they can also feel passion for someone too without losing who they are. This is where good young adult romance really shines, and Echols nails it in Such a Rush.
In that vein, after having a bad experience with an airplane book earlier this year, the details about planes and flying were actually very interesting because they weren’t overwhelming, they set the scene and aided in the character development. Echols gives us just enough to make it thrilling and interesting without turning the book into an aviation manual. I loved the scenes in the airplane, where the thrill of flying was palpable.
Some folks may be bothered by the “rawness” in Such a Rush—and I mean that on a number of levels—but I loved it.
It looks like God barfed a rainbow.
First, Leah’s language is harsh. She’s had a tough shake in life and she draws some pretty tough lines. She doesn’t like a lot of people, and she’s hard on them. She’s been labeled the “school slut,” and she alternatively embraces that label and assigns it to others. Because of this, I think some readers will find being in Leah’s headspace frustrating, and that’s totally understandable—for me, I enjoyed this internal tension. Leah’s love interest is also a difficult personality and his motivations are as murky as Leah’s. Basically, these are some pretty broken young people that have to be adults when they’re in desperate need of the guidance of Mr. Hall, whom they’re all mourning.
Before he could utter more bullshit, I went on, “Men always do that to women when they feel threatened. They tell everybody the woman must be giving out blow jobs because there’s no way she could be successful otherwise.”
Obviously, this is also a straight-up “mature” young adult novel—for readers used to the softer touch of YA romance stalwarts like Sarah Dessen (whose books I love), the frankness in Such a Rush may be a surprise. I, for one, would like to see more of this in the YA spectrum. Even though the protagonists are still in high school, and therefore not “new adults” (a term I am not completely comfortable with), I’d include Such a Rush with books like Easy.* Except there’s a lot more humor.
We already figured you were going with us like a double date from hell…
Along those same lines, this is one I’m adding to my list of “sex positive” young adult novels.
(I should actually make that list, huh?) While not a message book at all, Such a Rush tackles sex in a frank manner, both in the choices to and not to have it and why. There’s a scene (on pages 235-7 for those of you with a copy of Such a Rush) in which Leah and Grayson have a very frank conversation about her sex (not in the context you’re thinking) and it is one of the most thoughtfully rendered discussions of the topic I’ve read in a YA novel. It’s actually painful to read, because it really demonstrates how emotionally screwed up Leah is, and what a hard road she’s got ahead of her.
There’s a later conversation (on pages 274-5 for those of you following along at home) that straight up made me teary (if you ask Laura and Renegade, they’ll tell you that this isn’t too hard, but still) between Leah and the boy she ends up with after they’ve begun a physical relationship. It contradicts all of her assumptions revealed in the earlier scene about the purpose of physical intimacy. It’s a revealing, redemptive moment and one that I’m glad Echols included in Such a Rush.
I always recommend Going Too Far as a first Echols’ dramatic novel and Major Crush as a first of her comedies for Echols newbies. I still think that those are probably the best to start with, but Such a Rush is probably my new favorite of her novels because the character growth from everyone is just so deft. Plus, the gorgeous cover is definitely one that I’d push on people who are reluctant to pick up something labeled as “YA Romance.”
FNL Character Rating: Tyra all the way!
ALERT! For those of you who’re uninitiated to the fabulousness of Jennifer Echols YA dramas, two of her ebooks, Going Too Far (which I love) and Forget You (also good), are on sale for $3.99 right now. And trust me, with those covers, you’re going to want to go digital.
Disclosure: I received a copy of Such a Rush from the author. (Thank you, Jennifer!)
*Jennifer’s 2011 dramatic release, Love Story, takes place in college, and yet it often absent from lists of “new adult” novels. It’s not my favorite Echols, but it’s a good one to check out if you’re interested in reading more YA with older characters.