When I first started hearing about When We Collided, the third novel by Emery Lord, I worried it would be another Manic-Pixie-Dream-Girl-Meets-Unrealistically-Sensitive-Boy sort of story. You know the kind.
I mean, here we have Vivi, who breezes into town on a cloud of Marilyn blonde hair and magnetic energy. She carves her initials into trees, makes friends with strangers, believes in past lives, and dresses in ballet slippers and painted butterfly wings. She's artistic, she's quirky, she's charming. She's the sort of girl all the boys fall in insta-lust with, the type all the mousy wallflower girls aspire to be. She's Stargirl, she's Helen of Troy, she's the unattainable love interest in every John Huges movie, she's every female character John Green ever created. She seems too good to be true.
Then we have Jonah, the local boy who gets pulled into Vivi's orbit. He's quiet, contemplative, and very sensitive. He's mature beyond his years. He's also a fabulous gourmet cook. He doesns't have much experience with girls, doesn't really have time for them, and can't believe a girl like Vivi would even notice him, much less insert herself so dramatically into his life.
If that were all these characters were, I'd have lost interest in the book before the first 50 pages. But Vivi and Jonah both are more than they first appear. Far more.
Vivi has recently been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. She and her single mother have come to Verona Cove for the summer, in part, at least, to give Vivi a fresh start and help her escape the trouble she left behind in Seattle. Unfortunately, Vivi wrongly believes the "fresh start" bit to mean she can stop taking her meds. At first she's ok. But then the manic highs associated with her disorder start up again. In fact, it is during one of these highs that she meets Jonah and what is left his family. But for every high, an equal low awaits. Vivi's behavior becomes more and more unpredictable, cumulating in a violent confrontation with her illigtimate birth father and a near-fatal moped accident.
Jonah too is dealing with more than a boy his age should have to. Following the death of his father, Jonah's mother descended into a severe depression. Most days, she won't even get out of bed. So Jonah has stepped up to care for his horde of younger siblings (make lunches, get them to their daily activities, mediate arguments, etc). He also must help with the family restaurant. He feels inadequate. Not only does he feel like he's failed to help his mom out of her slump, but he also feels there's no way he can fill the shoes his dad left. He can't be everything he needs to be. Some days, he feels his family is broken beyond repair and nothing he says or does can fix it.
I guess what I'm saying, is this: These characters have depth. They're more than the stereotype. More than the formula. And the author's use of alternating viewpoint chapters really helps the reader get inside the heads of both Vivi and Jonah. Despite their flaws and dramas, they're good for each other. They're what each other needed, at least for the moment.
Being that this is a teen romance, there's no Happily Ever After/Riding Off Into the Sunset Together. Nothing is permanent. Vivi and Jonah must move on with their lives. But the ending is satisfying. A little cheesy, too. But satisfying. You get the sense that the characters will be OK even though they must part ways.
Overall, a good Beach Read. --AJB