The Situation: Hudson works at a garage with his father, and it's the day before a big interview with the dean of admissions at Ole Miss. The plan is to finish up at the garage, go over some sample interview questions after dinner, and then head to bed early so as to be able to get up on time and make the 50 minute drive to the interview. Bree is hitch hiking across America, with no real destination in mind. She doesn't get along at all with her sister, whom she lived with up until nine months ago when she ran away, so she has no plan to return. Elliott just confessed his love to the girl of his dreams, and she rejected him, on prom night. Conversely, Sonia has found love and happiness with Jeremiah, whose brother is marrying the sister of Sonia's ex, who died after collapsing at a basketball game. Will she ever not feel guilty for having moved on with her love life?
The Problem: On the night that Hudson is supposed to brush up on sample interview questions, Leila comes to his garage in her bright red car, asking to have some work done. She is the type of girl that Hudson eventually realizes he'll be thinking about for months after she is gone. Now all thoughts of preparation for the interview, and his future, have taken a backseat. And when the next car to pick up Bree from the side of the road is Leila's ridiculously red car, the two girls end up having a series of adventures that eventually lands them in a situation where the only person they can reach out to for help is the one person Bree doesn't want to see. After suffering the crushing blow of having Maribel reject him, Elliott wanders drunkenly into a downtown street and is nearly run over by Leila's bright red car. She convinces him that he can't give up on Maribel so easily, but the whole thing may be futile. And as Sonia leaves the hotel in Canada where the wedding is to take place, with Leila as her getaway driver, she realizes after they have already crossed the border back into America that she has the wedding rings with her, and may not make it back to the hotel in time. While Leila always focuses on the problems on the people she ends up meeting on her road trip, she has issues of her own she is trying to sort out. She tells them all that she is headed to Alaska to see the Northern Lights. And while that may technically be true, it isn't the full story.
Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult fiction book that follows one character, Leila, as she heads north to Alaska to see the Northern Lights. On the way, she encounters four other people, all around her age: Hudson, Bree, Elliott, and Sonia. The book is divided into five sections, one for each of the people Leila encounters, and then the last one for Leila herself. It is a tale of the classic road trip, and the potential adventures that can happen along the way, both good and bad. And with five different sections, the reader really gets five different stories, and Leila links them all together. The book covers the always life-defining fork in the road that is life after high school, dealing with death and loss, searching for the fairy tale ending, and of course, the search to find out who you really are, and what you want out of life. In other words, it is a young adult novel that gets to cover more bases than most due to its structure.
My Verdict: The nice thing about this book is that if you don't really care much for a character, chances are you won't have to read about them for very long because the book is made up of five different stories. But the bad news is that if you do like someone, they'll probably disappear within a few pages and never show up again. And if you don't like Leila, it's really too bad since the reader is stuck with her for the entire 368 pages. It does sometimes feel more like a short story collection than a cohesive novel, but the book does steadily pick up steam, and eventually the character of Leila looks more like a fully rounded character, instead of just another manic pixie dream girl. If she had remained nothing more than a manic pixie dream girl, I certainly would not have liked the book as much as I did. But she is a fully rounded character, her story just comes after the reader gets the story of the four people she comes across on her journey. Although, I am not sure the other four characters all get the same amount of attention and detail. Overall, the book reads like a road trip. And even the somewhat hard to believe moments can be easily overlooked.
Favorite Moment: When Elliott makes another attempt at professing his love to Maribel by singing an Ace of Base song onstage at his high school prom.
Favorite Character: I definitely liked Elliott's story the best and his character the most. It is a familiar story of a boy who pined over one girl all his life and finally got the courage to say something, but Elliott's story still manages to be endearing and refreshing, which left me rooting for him to get the girl.
Recommended Reading: If you want to read another YA book featuring a road trip, then I recommend Nina LaCour's The Disenchantments. In fact, the main character of The Disenchantments reminds me a lot of Elliott, but the circumstances are very different.