Phillip Phillips’ “Gone Gone Gone,” made the rounds in Miss Bates’ head as she read Robin York’s, aka Ruthie Knox, Deeper. The song’s lively beat and Phillips’ glowingly adorable looks, despite the sentimentality of its “everything I do, I do it for you” ethos (more in keeping with Miss Bates’ youth 😉 ) are irresistible and an echo (“When life leaves you high and dry/I”ll be at your door tonight/If you need help … I’ll lie, cheat, I’ll beg and bride/To make you well”) of York’s début New Adult romance series. York captures youth’s passions, its ignorance and sensitivity, and its resilience, in a story that is as much coming-of-age as romantic. Miss Bates, especially in light of this post at Vacuous Minx about what is and isn’t a romance, would say this isn’t, lacking, as it does, the de rigueur HEA. On the other hand, York subtitles Deeper with the caveat Caroline and West, Part I, so the possibility of an HEA is open to later volumes. Be warned, however, that Deeper‘s end was a cryfest for Miss B.
York adroitly manipulates disparate elements: alternating first-person narration for hero and heroine; sufficient back-stories to whet the reader’s appetite without letting them dominate; a hero and heroine who grow and change; and, a love story that is intense, young-first-love sexy, fraught with confrontation, need, and tenderness. She creates some of MissB’s favourite roles for hero and heroine, “bad-boy” and “goody-two-shoes,” except she pulls a number on her heroine that besmirches her and draws a hero whose actions belie a bruised and honourable soul. All of it worked for Miss Bates more or less, except the narration. Her trouble with it is more sensibility than critique. The first half and a bit of the novel dragged, though her liking for Caroline and West kept her reading; the final 30% (on the Kindle, folks, we can point to percents) was incandescently good. Her only other experience of this new “New Adult” subgenre is Theresa Weir’s “Geek With the Cat Tattoo.” Truth be told, she loved the cat narrator in that one: it allowed Weir to achieve distance from the angsty young people. Miss Bates thought York’s first-person narration narrow, maybe claustrophobic, though it showed mastery in its double-threaded voices, was in control of its material. As she’s already said, sensibility, a matter of taste, not critique. And a reason why, other than masters of the genre like York/Knox and Weir, MissB’s not likely to seek out many of these “New Adult” narratives, and their angsty, first-person narration.
No matter MissB’s vexations with narration, strong writing goes a long way in redeeming it and York’s writing is very strong. Because the writing is striking and distinct, because the narrators are likeable, when youth’s propensity for high drama drives the narrative to the brink of sentimentality, York draws back, with humour, or wit, or the beauty of Caroline and West’s physicality. York captures this time when young people have to make “decisions and revisions,” all that shooting in the dark. It’s a difficult place to be; it’s a chasm. It’s utterly free & utterly trapped. York lays a lethal trap for the heroine, the good girl, the studious, ambitious, of good family and standing Caroline Piasecki, whose ex-boyfriend posted obscene pictures of her on the Net, social media sites, wherever and whenever he could do so. Caroline feels shamed, dirtied, guilty. She knew when he took the pictures that she wasn’t comfortable; she wanted to snatch the phone to delete them. She knows she should have flung off the “good-girl” mantle because it’s burden and sham. It holds you down and suffocates you, “An impulse I shrugged off because I didn’t want to offend him. I didn’t want to be rude.”
A judge’s youngest daughter, Caroline arrives at Putnam College cowed, hesitant, embarrassed. Opening the novel retrospectively, she tells us, “Sometimes I hate the girl I was back then.” She needed to be acknowledged, to have her good-girl-ness recognized, “Girls like me … we eat approval.” It’s poetic that she falls for the worse, most beautiful young man on campus, “West is trouble, and I’m allergic.” She wants him, even though she’s lost her élan, even though she’d rather cower and hide, “I’d rather be anonymous than notorious.” She’s helpless, however, before West Leavitt, tall, big, sombre, powerful, of lightning blue-grey eyes and messy dark hair. Despite his intensity and shady dealings, incessant work and study schedules, she wants “the forbiddenness of him.” She doesn’t know what to do with her desire, “I have no idea what the rules are right now … I need rules to get through this. I’m a rules kind of girl.”
West Leavitt is what Knox’s college-age Tony Mazzara (from Making It Last) would have been. Knox/York can’t really write a bad-boy hero if her life depended on it; even when she aims for “deeply” flawed, they keep getting away from her. She’s given him “trappings” of bad-boy-hood, but what’s she’s created is a young man from the “wrong side of the tracks.” West Leavitt of trailer-park Silt, Oregon, arrives at Putnam College carrying his soul-wounding family: abusive father, gullible mother, and nine-year-old sister, Frankie, for whom he’ll move the world to protect. His family isn’t sordid; they’re poor. Like Tony Mazzara, West has an inflated sense of responsibility for those he loves, “I think that’s what makes a real man. Not whose ass you can kick or how good you can f—, but what you do. How hard you work for the people who depend on you. What you can give them.” He’s admirably ambitious; he wants to be a doctor. He also wanted out of Silt, “I wanted to know who I could be if I wasn’t tethered to this place.” He’s as loveable and driven as Jay Gatsby/James Gatz of North Dakota, “I got a job at this ritsy golf course … because I knew if there was anywhere I could meet the right people, study them, figure out how to become one of them, it was there.” Unlike Jay, West is smart enough to know that the ties that bind also reel you back, drive you off course; early on, he tells us, “Love is the undertow.” When he falls hard for Caroline, York builds a lovely conflict. Rich-girl Caroline is loved; she’s not spoiled-love, but truly loved by her single-parent judge father. She knows how to love and when she applies the full force of that woman’s love, “He looks weary and … precious … I wish I could give him rest. Ease.”, to a boy who’s only loved by a needy innocent sister, his capitulation is awesome and awesomely romantic.
In the stronger last third of the novel, York cleverly plays with the connotations of “deeper.” Deeper is: falling more and more helplessly in love; being pulled between family ties and self-actualization; circumstances that leave us without choice; calls of love and obligation; the pleasures and vulnerability that intimacy entails. More than anything, however, Miss Bates loved how it stood for the uniqueness of falling in love for the first time. West says of Caroline, “I want to make her belong to me … Nothing is real but her and me and this ocean of dark we’re drifting in.” Caroline says of West, “I want him to show me what deeper feels like.” It stands in beautifully for the realization of first love; it’s not just desire, it’s an emotional tie, “Every time I kissed Caroline, I pulled her deeper in. Deep and then deeper, until I couldn’t come home without bringing her along.” When “the world is too much with us,” when rifts and demands encroach on Caroline and West’s love, Caroline has to call West on his tendency to distance himself from her; it then is the language of ultimatum, ” ‘It’s deeper or nothing,’ I tell him.” His grand gesture, his plea, his tenderness and gentleness are romantic.
In the end, Miss Bates can’t say that she’ll embrace this new romance subgenre of “New Adult” and its first-person narrative narrowing. As far as York’s Caroline and West are concerned, however, she can’t wait for things to get Harder. (She’s also hoping there’s a cat in their future.) York has delivered and it is good; herein is “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Robin York’s Deeper, published by Random House/Bantam Dell, is available as of January 28th, in the usual places and formats.
Miss Bates is grateful to Random House, for an e-ARC, via Netgalley, in exchange for this honest review.
Do you read, have you read, and enjoyed, or not New Adult romance? If so, what say you about this new subgenre? What authors and their titles would you say are seminal to it?