May 8, 2013

Review: Perfect Escape

By: Jennifer Brown
Published: July 2012 by Little, Brown
Format: Paperback, 246 pages
Buy: Barnes & Noble//Books-A-Million//Amazon//Book Depository [Currently Unavailable]
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He didn't know it yet, but we were running away.

Kendra has always felt overshadowed by her older brother, Grayson, whose OCD forces him to live a life of carefully coordinated routines. The only way Kendra can stand out next to Grayson is to be perfect, and she has perfection down to an art -- until a cheating scandal threatens her flawless reputation. Behind the wheel of her car, with Grayson asleep beside her, Kendra decides to drive away from it all -- with enough distance, maybe she'll be able to figure everything out. But eventually, Kendra must stop running and come to terms with herself, her brother, and her past. With undeniable grace and humor, acclaimed author Jennifer Brown explores OCD, the pressure for perfection, and the emotional highs and lows of a complex sibling relationship.

Rating: 4.3/5

I love Jennifer Brown. Her first book, Hate List, blew me away so much, I was feeling and crying for days afterwords. Even now, I'm like, "Man, that book," whenever I think about it. With Bitter End, I enjoyed it, but not as much as Hate List, and I'm afraid that's the same for this one as well. I enjoyed it. I very, very much enjoyed this book, so don't think I didn't for one second just because it didn't live up to Hate List. Jennifer Brown set such an incredibly high bar for herself (and for others, really) that it's going to be hard for me to feel the same way about another one of her books. But I still loved this, and I love Jennifer Brown.

What kept me from giving this a five rating was that I never truly bought the believability for this road trip. Reflecting back, I understand that it could definitely happen and Brown did great with Grayson's reaction to it. My problem lied with Kendra. I very much loved her character and I related to her well, but I don't think we got enough of the feeling in the beginning of who she was to her parents and to the others around her. We're told she had to be Miss Perfect, but I never really saw that before they were on the road. I think if we would have gotten that feel and saw more of her treatment and what was expected of her beforehand, that would have solved my problem.

Speaking of the road trip, I loved it. It wasn't a typical, let's go here, let's do that. Kendra had a plan to reach her best friend in California, who she hadn't seen in years, or even heard from in nearly a year, Zoe. It's a secret she keeps from her brother, who used to be in love with Zoe (and Zoe with him) before Zoe's family ripped her away from Grayson and their family, because of his mental illness. It was a nasty tear and ripped at my gut because it felt genuinely real, this feud between their families, who used to be best friends since before the kids were born. And I loved even more how Brown handled the outcome of the road trip, once they arrived in California. It wasn't what you hoped, only sort of what you expected (or not, depending), and it stirred a lot of feelings.

On the road, we meet a young woman in her late teens who's married to a 50-something-year-old man with a baby. As soon as we met her, I hoped she wouldn't become one we knew for one chapter and then she was gone. And luckily Brown didn't do that. She joins the duo, on a journey for her own escape, searching for her own "there." I really enjoyed her character. She was broken and a teenager at heart, but a soul who had lived through much hardship. Her baby drove me a bit nuts, though. Seriously, I heard it crying in my sleep, which, I technically a good thing, but another reason I'll never have children.

As for the main storyline, Kendra's escape from her scandal while she tries to cure her brother of OCD, for herself really. Not for him. It's different. Slightly unbelievable for me, like I said, but overall very, very engaging. Their relationship was done perfectly. There were some moments, like toward the end, where I felt Kendra shifted a bit too quickly from love to hate, which I get it, that happens, but the lovely moment was just cut a bit short for me, and after what happened, I would have loved to have seen a bit of a shift in how they talked to each other before the big blow up.

Now, I have OCD. It's not to this extreme, but I do have it and it is incredibly hard to deal with, especially if you have family and friends who are impacted by it. Brown dealt with that so well. I connected to Grayson and loved how realistic Brown made it feel. I felt his frustration and pain without being in his head. It was Kendra, however, that I can't decide if I liked or loved. Because at some moments, I loved her. I connected with her and felt for her, but other times she felt as though she were contradicting herself vs. just changing her mind, so I never truly knew her motive behind bringing Grayson along. For him or for her or for what. I mean, I know *why* she did it, but the narration just had me wondering a lot if that was the truth. Maybe that was the point, though, and I missed it. I'm not sure.

Overall, though, I thought this was fantastic. I read it in one setting. The "one more page" read. I finally got to meet Brown at the RT Convention in Kansas City this past weekend, where I got this book. She was fantastic and so sweet and since she's a local author, I'll be heading to her release party for A Thousand Words, which sounds fantastic too.

As this story went on, I found myself caring less about its believability and caring more about the characters on the page and what would come of them. I like that we didn't get an outcome. It leaves it to the mind, which, really, is such a perfect escape.

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