(nb: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley)
“A Really Awesome Mess” tells the story of two sixteen-year-olds—Emmy and Justin—who have been sent to a therapeutic boarding school, Heartland Academy. The place is essentially half school and half treatment center.
Emmy is there because of severe anger issues—she bullied a boy in her class on Facebook, until she got in serious trouble. She also suffers from anorexia. Both of these events are related, but we don’t find out how until about halfway through the book.
Justin suffers from depression. He made a halfhearted suicide attempt by taking a bunch of Tylenol. That earned him a trip to Heartland.
When they arrive, they both have roommates who have been there for an extended period. Emmy and Justin sort of like each other at first, then don’t like each other, then they reach a sort of détente.
Their fellow students/patients are there for a variety of reasons: addictions, compulsive lying, rage issues, selective mutism. Over the course of the term, the once disparate collection of troubled kids molds together to form a band of friends, a small family almost. They have little romances where possible, and nearly destroy a state fair.
“A Really Awesome Mess” provides an interesting cast of characters. All are quirky in their own way, but nobody is beyond reach. The story is told in alternating chapters between Emmy and Justin.
This is the part that didn’t work for me. The Emmy chapters and the Justin chapters had nearly identical narrative styles. I didn’t get the sense that two different people were talking. I think the book would have had more impact had their voices been different. They really should have, too: an anorexic with rage issues, and a depressed kid? It only seems natural their tones would have been markedly different: more frenetic for Emmy, and more subdued for Justin. I didn’t feel any difference.
This was a distraction, and it made it more difficult for me to feel immersed in the story. Once I got there, it was a nice ride, but it took several chapters.
Ultimately, “A Really Awesome Mess” has a decent climax, and I thought the ending was good. It’s one of those “if ONLY” books.
It was good, but it could have been great, “if ONLY”…
Recommended for YA Romance fans