I picked this one up because I was intrigued by the part about a girl in high school getting married. It's so rare that I find a YA book that deals with an event I have handled recently (like a wedding, as opposed to the long ago angst of wondering whether so-and-so liked me) that I wanted to see what was up. I then couldn't stop reading when I discovered the book is set not far from my hometown - and in fact, Bronwen's top college pick is my hometown's college!
Bronwen Oliver is convinced she's adopted. She and her mother have nothing in common (not even their hair color, though her mom tries to mask it with monthly salon visits to bleach out Bronwen's naturally brunette hair). From an early age she has convinced herself that she is actually Phoebe Lilywhite; she and the real Bronwen Oliver were switched at birth and any day now the Lilywhites will return to re-claim their lost daughter. As she approaches the end of high school this is seeming less and less likely, but Bronwen never stops yearning to find her "real" family.
Enter Jared Sondervan. An old friend of her older brother's (aka Jesus, judging by how much her mother adores him), Jared and Bronwen re-connect during a random coffee run and quickly begin dating, even though she's just finishing her senior year of high school and he's finishing his senior year at Hope College. Not only is Jared a perfect gentlemen, kind, courteous and eager to draw Bronwen out of his shell, but his family is large and loving, caring more about happiness than appearances - everything Bronwen's family is not. So when Jared proposes they should get engaged, Bronwen happily says yes. Suddenly prom isn't the biggest date on her calendar - it's her late August wedding at sunset on the beach at Lake Michigan. But as she and Jared begin planning their lives together, Bronwen finds herself questioning her choices. Maybe before she gets married, she has to really figure out who she is first.
Like I said above, this book is set around my home town, and McCahan has totally nailed the setting, right down to the proliferation of Dutch names (and the inevitable duplication of names, even when people aren't related). I about died when Bronwen and other characters were meeting in the very cafe on Hope's campus that I hung out at as a precocious middle- and high school student taking classes there. It's been years since I really considered the area home, but it was so much fun revisiting through Bronwen's eyes.
My one quibble with Bronwen? I literally ground my teeth together in frustration when she quips that every girl has her dream wedding no matter "how cool she pretends to be." Grr. Not true. I know, I know, one tiny line in a whole book, but that sort of declaration about how "all girls" or "all boys" act is incredibly frustrating for us girls (or boys) who don't share those traits! (See Tuesday's review of This Means War!)
In many ways, this book is the antidote to many of the unrealistic and down right creepy romances that have been flooding the YA market as of late. Jared is a legitimately nice guy - he respects Bronwen's boundaries (and good on Bronwen for having those boundaries and knowing when she had to say stop!) and seems truly interested in learning her likes and dislikes. His and Bronwen's problems don't stem from any inherent personality flaws, rather they're just in two very different places. When you're in a long term relationship, whether marriage or dating or domestic partnership, you do have to start thinking in terms of Us, and that was scary enough for me as a college graduate; I can't imagine having to make decisions like that in high school!
Bronwen's home life is painful to read about. Her mother is just awful, stopping just short of actually being abusive, though it certainly doesn't seem like Bronwen had the healthiest home life. Then again, I knew many parents in that area who shared major traits with her mom, namely the all-encompassing need to always keep up good appearances and never, ever offend or inconvenience someone else.
I totally acknowledge that a lot of my entertainment from this book was the setting and recognizing so much of the area that I grew up in. However, I wasn't so blinded that I couldn't recognize that this is a really solid book, and a great romance for people who like complicated and honest relationships.