A Really Awesome Mess by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin
Author: Trish Cook Website|Twitter Brendan Halpin Website|Twitter
Published: 23 July 2013 (EgmontUSA)
Buy the hardback: Amazon|BookDepository
Buy the e-book: Kindle
Source: Received free copy from publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
Plot Summary (from Goodreads):
Two teenagers. Two very bumpy roads taken that lead to Heartland Academy.
Justin was just having fun, but when his dad walked in on him with a girl in a very compromising position, Justin's summer took a quick turn for the worse. His parents' divorce put Justin on rocky mental ground, and after a handful of Tylenol lands him in the hospital, he has really hit rock bottom.
Emmy never felt like part of her family. She was adopted from China. Her parents and sister tower over her and look like they came out of a Ralph Lauren catalog-- and Emmy definitely doesn't. After a scandalous photo of Emmy leads to vicious rumors around school, she threatens the boy who started it all on Facebook.
Justin and Emmy arrive at Heartland Academy, a reform school that will force them to deal with their issues, damaged souls with little patience for authority. But along the way they will find a ragtag group of teens who are just as broken, stubborn, and full of sarcasm as themselves. In the end, they might even call each other friends.
This was available to read now on NetGalley and when I saw the plot summary, I knew it was a book I wanted to read. A Really Awesome Mess follows Emmy and Justin as they navigate their way through life at Heartland Academy, a boarding school slash inpatient therapy unit where they have some pretty tough issues to address in their lives.
The book is written in first person and alternates chapters between Emmy and Justin's point of view. I've said it before and I'll say it again; I love multi-POV books! Especially when you get it from both a guy and a girl's perspective. The first person was really effective at getting inside the two characters' heads as well, something that was vital to understand what they're thinking and going through.
What was completely refreshing about A Really Awesome Mess is that Emmy and Justin are two pretty brash characters. When we first meet them they're pretty rude and obviously quite messed up. I love books that tackle really tough issues and this book manages to do that so well. There's nothing sugar-coated about what Emmy and Justin are going through and that really comes across in the way they speak and their stubborn attitudes as they enter therapy. Not once did it put me off them as characters, however, because I found the both to be fascinating people in sucky situations.
Emmy is battling an eating disorder which is something she's pretty much in complete denial about. This book comes with a pretty big trigger warning because you get right inside her head whilst she's having really negative thoughts. But having known friends with eating disorders, I could recognise Emmy's way of life instantly and it's clear it's been well researched and well represented. I really felt for her situation and her insecurities. Emmy is Chinese and was adopted from China by her parents who thought they couldn't have kids biologically, until Emmy's sister Joss came along leaving Emmy feeling like the black sheep of the family. I also did a little high-five at the diversity in this book.
Justin's problems were just as interesting to me. He arrives in therapy after what he describes as an attention seeking suicide attempt. A lot of his story centres around the issues he has with sex, after his dad caught him doing something with a girl he probably shouldn't be doing, and I thought it was great to be tackling a teenage boy's attitude to sex in that way. There's also the underlying problem of Justin's depression, which was something I was really glad to be seeing portrayed, because people don't think about men having depression. There were some really heart-breaking moments when he hits his lows. As a character I really liked Justin. He has a pretty sharp tongue and doesn't beat around the bush when it comes to talking about those kind of things. He also has a wicked sense of humour and I would find myself constantly laughing at some of the stuff he comes out with.
Whilst the book does dive head first into some pretty intense topics, that humour is something that is dotted throughout the story so this doesn't feel like a depressing read. It has touches of that dark humour as the therapy kids take the mick out of each other. I loved that. I think people can be worried about offending people but in reality, sometimes you have to laugh your way through those dark moments and situations. There's also some really fun moments as the kids rally together to try and enjoy themselves and make the most of the privileges they have.
What really works in A Really Awesome Mess is the way that Emmy and Justin are completely on the same wave length. They instantly strike up a bond because they have the same sense of humour and the same attitude to being in therapy. They're not afraid to tell each other and other people what they think as well. Obviously the bond between them plays a huge part and there's a little touch of something more there, but the two of them have so much going on in their lives that it isn't a typical boy-meets-girl-and-falls-in-love thing. It's about overcoming the barriers in order to be in a place where they can act upon those feelings.
I really enjoyed the dynamic between the therapy kids as well. They all have different things going on yet they can bond over being stuck somewhere they don't want to be. I loved how each character got a fair bit of attention so we could follow their individual stories, despite the main focus being on Emmy and Justin. I particularly liked Jenny's story and found Chip to be a hilarious addition.
I can't write this review and not mention all the little references thrown in that made me *squeee*. Firstly, there's a tonne of Harry Potter references which is something that was always going to make me smile. They're present throughout the whole story and I loved how they could relate so many situations to Harry Potter. There's also some great references to other books I know or I've heard of which I just loved stumbling across. It just made me feel like I was on the same wave length as the authors.
The only time the book didn't work for me was when some of the exposition was done using dialogue and it slowed it down a little. There's obviously a lot of backstory to get across and sometimes it felt a bit squished and distracted me from the plot. Otherwise, this is a book that is definitely very "me" and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
I really recommend A Really Awesome Mess because it has the perfect balance of humour and real teen issues, with fantastic characters and a real sense of empowerment among them.
Books like this: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Wintergirls by Laure Halse Anderson
What to read next: So Lyrical by Trish Cook, Tessa Masterson Will Go to Prom by Brendan Halpin