If Skylar Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only thing separating Skylar from art school is three months of summer… until Skylar’s mother loses her job, and Skylar realises her dreams may be slipping out of reach.
Josh had a different escape route: the Marines. But after losing his leg in Afghanistan, he returned home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be.
What brings Skylar and Josh together is working at the Paradise – a quirky motel off California’s Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into a friendship and, soon, something deeper.
I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios is a butterflies-inducing, heart-rending summer romance. With complex families, traumatic backstories and more quirky scene setting than you can shake a stick at – my personal favourite being the Paradise, the movie-music-eighties themed motel Josh and Skylar both work at – it is a YA novel straight from the school of Sarah Dessen and I loved it.
Skylar Evans is desperate to leave the shitty town of Creek View. Unfortunately, just as freedom, in the form of leaving for college, finally appears on the horizon, her life starts to fall apart. Her mother loses her job, relapses into alcoholism and starts dating a creep. Forced to pick up two jobs to keep the lights on for both of them, Skylar is clearly losing the fight to get through to her mother and finds herself faced with a painful choice: leave her mother to ruin her life (again) with her horrific new boyfriend, or give up her dreams in the hope she can save her.
Enter Josh. The arrogant, womanising a-hole Skylar went to high school with breezes back into town after a tour of Afghanistan with the Marines. Except the Josh who returns to Creek View is not the same guy he was when he left. The victim of an IED, he’s making the difficult adjustment back to civilian life having lost a leg and a best friend, suffering the duel effects of his injury, grief and continuous struggle with PTSD.
Skylar and Josh’s lives get tangled up through their jobs at the Paradise Motel and, you guessed it, they fall in luuuurve. The push and pull of their budding romance is delicious, with the dual narrative – it’s like 90% Skylar, 10% Josh – adding authenticity to their growing feelings for each other while also allowing the full complexity of Josh’s PTSD storyline to play out.
This book is full of FEELINGS, from Skylar and Josh’s evolving relationship to Josh’s trauma to Skylar’s beyond frustrating dynamic with her mother, and it is a testament to Demetrios’s writing that I really felt all of it. Whether it was Josh wrestling with what his prosthesis meant for his sex life or tentatively inviting Skylar to dance in the rain it was equal parts devastating and elating reading.
What refreshes me most about books like this is the willingness to dwell is what is Not Okay. The centre of this story is, of course, the romance, but surrounding it are a series of complicated and messed up situations that aren’t necessarily solvable. One of the most difficult and heart breaking lessons of growing up – and I think, probably, life – is coming to peace with the fact that there are some situations that won’t ever be okay, at least not in the form you had always imagined. For Josh, it means coming face to face with the horrors of his war experiences and the devastating losses he has suffered and come out believing he deserves the chance to move forward. For Skylar, it is the very different but utterly awful realisation that sometimes you have to choose yourself or, to paraphrase Mary Oliver, save the only life you can save, even if that means letting go of the only family she has left.
I’ll Meet You There is gorgeously romantic, unapologetically messy, packed with feeling and the perfect read for your literary Valentine’s Day celebrations.