After reading some early reviews of Paula Garner’s new book, Relative Strangers, I was intrigued, to say the least. I’m sometimes skeptical of YA contemporaries because I’ve encountered so many that seem to tell the same, formulaic story, complete with the same clichéd lessons and realizations. That sounds a little harsh, but feeling like you’re reading the same book over and over can get old real quick. I was hoping that this book would be a different, refreshing read, and luckily, I was right! 😊
Here’s a synopsis:
Eighteen-year-old Jules has always wished for a close-knit family. She never knew her father, and her ex-addict mother has always seemed more interested in artistic endeavors than in bonding with her only daughter. Jules’ life and future look as flat and unchanging as her small Illinois town. Then a simple quest to find a baby picture for the senior yearbook leads to an earth-shattering discovery: for most of the first two years of her life, Jules lived in foster care.
Reeling from feelings of betrayal and with only the flimsiest of clues, Jules sets out to learn the truth about her past. What she finds is a wonderful family who loved her as their own and hoped to adopt her — including a now-adult foster brother who is overjoyed to see his sister again. But as her feelings for him spiral into a devastating, catastrophic crush — and the divide between Jules and her mother widens — Jules finds herself on the brink of losing everything.
What I Liked:
- This book starts off really strong. I was immediately hooked!
- The story feels messy (in a good way!) and real. Although I couldn’t exactly relate to Jules’ situation, I was eager to see where her search for answers led and how it might change her.
- I really liked most of the characters, and I appreciate the fact that none of them are perfect. Jules, in particular, is described so well that I almost expected to bump into her on the street.
- There is an honesty to Garner’s writing that made me even more invested. She never avoids difficult situations, and the narrative has profound emotional depth.
- As someone who’s occasionally frustrated by YA contemporaries that seem too clichéd, predictable, or one-dimensional, Relative Strangers was a nice change of pace. It challenges readers to go on a very personal journey with the main character, and it never feels stale or already-done-before.
What I Disliked:
- I’m still not sure how I feel about Luke and the whole romance subplot. 🤔 Yes, he’s her former foster brother, and they’re not biologically related. But it still feels… weird? And it all seemed to happen really fast, sort of bordering on “insta-love.”
- While I liked Jules, I did question some of her choices. This isn’t me saying she can never screw up — she’s a teenager. She’s going to do some questionable things. But there were times where I couldn’t stop thinking, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! 😬
- I do think that this book would benefit from more of a balance between emotion and action. It’s important to know how characters are feeling, but we also need more than just that.
If you love YA contemporaries — especially coming-of-age stories — I would definitely recommend giving this book a shot! It’s a unique story, the writing is excellent, and the characters are interesting and memorable. Garner has crafted a complex, heartfelt tale of family, friendship, and finding yourself. ❤️
**Thank you to Candlewick Press for providing me with a free ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Want to win a copy of Relative Strangers? You’re in luck! Read below to find out how you can enter the giveaway. (Please note that this giveaway is open to U.S. and Canada only.) This giveaway will end at 10 AM EST on Wednesday, April 18th. A winner will be randomly selected and contacted later that day.
HOW TO ENTER:
All you have to do is leave a comment on this blog post and tell me a book you’ve read recently that you loved! That’s it! 😄
Be sure to visit the other blogs participating in the Relative Strangers blog tour!
April 9th: Cracking the Cover
April 10th: Chelsea Palmer Book Reviews, Recommendations & Hauls
April 12: YA Bibliophile
April 13th: Swoony Boys