The Situation: Although Emi Price may have just graduated from high school, she is already working hard at making a name for herself as a talented young production designer on movie sets. She may have the occasional doubt about how good she actually is when she thinks about how her brother got her the job, but she can't deny the kind of trust people have placed in her. And when a friend of her ex's asks her to design sets for a new movie, it is an opportunity too good to pass up, despite this being the summer before college. Also, while her brother is off exploring Europe, he's letting her live in his apartment for the summer, but under one condition: she must make something epic happen there while he's gone. If all of this wasn't enough to keep her busy, she and her friend Charlotte end up finding a mysterious letter tucked away in an old record album cover they found at an estate sale for a Hollywood film legend. Soon Emi is caught up in the mysterious past of the now deceased Hollywood icon, and her summer is shaping up to be very epic indeed.
The Problem: While Emi loves designing sets, what she doesn't necessarily love is constantly running into her ex-girlfriend, Morgan, who works on the same projects. It doesn't help that this is actually the sixth time Morgan has broken up with her, and even though Emi knows she should move on, she desperately wants Morgan to take her back. Then enter Ava. The broken and somewhat lost granddaughter of Clyde Jones. The letter that Emi and Charlotte found was addressed to Ava's mother, and as his only living relative, she is entitled to the full inheritance. But finding Ava isn't the end of Emi and Charlotte's adventure. Ava has a checkered past of her own that she isn't done with. And while her life isn't really Emi and Charlotte's mystery to solve, they continue to take it on anyway, causing their summer to go in a direction they never imagined. Emi is enjoying the adventure, but begins to wonder what life will be like when Ava moves on, especially as she finds herself wanting to be more than just her friend.
Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel with a lesbian as the protagonist and narrator. In the beginning she is attempting to move on from a fairly messed-up relationship with a slightly older woman (by three years) and finds herself falling for a girl her age, but with a less than ideal family history and living situation. Since Emi is a novice production designer, there is a lot of talk about movies and sets and casting and scouting...the full deal. Charlotte also works on movies, but is more of a numbers girl than an artist. A lot of the book talks about not only designing and decorating sets, but also negotiating with stores to lower the prices on specific items that Emi thinks would be perfect for specific scenes, as well as negotiating with owners of houses and other locations so the movie can be shot there. I don't have any kind of intimate knowledge about what actually goes on when a movie is being made, so I can't attest to the accuracy of what appears in the book. But what LaCour portrays is a job that often takes a lot of time and begging when the two things that are guaranteed to be limited are time and money. There is also a heavy focus on family and what a difference it can make in someone's life to have the support of just a few key people. Emi and Charlotte are fortunate to have their family's full support and to know their own history. Ava and her friend Jamal are not so lucky.
My Verdict: Overall, this is a good story with solid characters. The parts that talk in detail about set design and what it takes to make a movie were never boring. And the characters are both relatable and interesting. However, there were many parts of the book where I felt like LaCour was trying too hard. At what, I am not entirely sure. But some details, such as Emi's mother being a professor of black studies and gender studies, felt unnecessary. It was almost like it was added for credibility's sake, when there wasn't really any need for it. Other details felt forced, such as Emi's encyclopedic knowledge of the greater Los Angeles area and how to navigate it, although it does make sense that she would have that since she has to search for materials for sets all of the time. Meanwhile, other seemingly important scenes feel rushed, like Emi coming to terms with the state of her and Morgan's relationship, and Ava receiving her inheritance. The book just often felt off-balance to me, and I am having a hard time really pinpointing why.
Favorite Moment: When Ava learns about her mother from Frank and Edie, and elderly couple who manage the apartment where Ava's mother lived. It isn't an ideal story to hear about the mother Ava doesn't remember, but Frank and Edie are the perfect people to hear about it from.
Favorite Character: Emi's best friend Charlotte is the kind of friend we would all want around when a relationship intervention is needed. Charlotte is not afraid to say what needs to be said about Morgan, even if it may hurt her friend's feelings.
Recommended Reading: I recommend LaCour's second novel, The Disenchantments. It follows a girl band as they go "on tour" through Northern California the summer after high school graduation. The characters and scenery are just so colorful and beautifully described that even in the more tense moments of the book, you kind of wish you're on the road trip with them.