Book #8 for 20 Books of Summer…
I have a few of West’s books on the TBR, as I come across her name pretty regularly as an author of lighthearted fluffy reads that are fun and relaxing. On the Fence fulfilled all of those obligations. While it wasn’t a book of incredible depth, it was still enjoyable and entertaining.
Charlotte, known by all as Charlie, is the youngest in a household of males. Her mom died when she was little – she can barely remember her – so her dad has raised Charlie, along with her three older brothers. Charlie is sixteen and a 100% tomboy. She loves playing sports, and is used to fighting – literally – her way through her pack of brothers for whatever she wants. Despite not having a mom, Charlie has still been raised in a home full of affection, loyalty, and support.
The drama in our book begins when Charlie gets a speeding ticket, and her dad tells her she has to pay it off herself, since this isn’t her first offense. Charlie has no interest in getting a job, but now has no choice. Through a series of (believable) events, she somehow ends up working at a small boutique, owned and operated by a slightly crazy but still super nice older lady. Charlie’s usually informal wear isn’t acceptable for her new job, and she finds herself wearing skinny jeans and lacy shirts, hoping that none of her brothers see her.
Various other things are going on as well, and Charlie finds herself confiding in their long-time next-door neighbor, Braden. Braden has basically grown up as one of her older brothers, but suddenly Charlie begins to wonder if they could have something more… *CUE DRAMATIC MUSIC MONTAGUE*
Okay, so this definitely reads as a book that would make a great little chick flick with a fun soundtrack, but that’s okay. And I think that this book did a really good job of avoiding some (although not quite all) of some cliches that can make chick lit so irritating.
For starters, even though Charlie is a tomboy, this is never presented as a “better than” option. So often I read YA that basically says that if girls enjoy makeup and clothes, it means that they are shallow and vapid. However, at one point, Charlie goes to lunch with some girls she has met through work. She’s nervous about it because she doesn’t think she’ll be able to find any common ground with them. However, it turns out that they all enjoy a lot of the same things, like books and various hobbies. Even though these girls don’t play sports, and Charlie isn’t really into hanging out at the mall, neither “type” is portrayed as being superior – they’re all just girls who enjoy different things, and that’s okay. I think that that is SO important. I read so many reviews of books where the reviewers go on about the importance of “diversity” in reading, so all YA books should have gay people, transgender people, people with mental illnesses, non-white people, etc. But I think it is just as, if not more, important to simply stop writing people as stereotypes – all people, including white cheerleader girls.
Actually, one fun thing about this book is that there wasn’t a villain. It’s just a story about Charlie readjusting her thinking about herself and people around her, and that was really refreshing. There is some drama about finding things out about her mom and, of course, boys, but there isn’t this Evil Enemy Girl, and I thought that was great.
As for boys, that part was okay. Obviously Charlie is falling for Braden, but at the same time she meets another guy. The thing is, she meets Other Guy when she is hanging out with the girls – wearing makeup and trendy clothes. Charlie feels like this isn’t the “real” her, but she likes Other Guy, so she tries to make things work with him while not revealing to him that she actually loves playing tackle football with her brothers and is super knowledgeable about baseball. For me, this was the weakest part of the story. I didn’t feel like Other Guy was necessary for Charlie to learn the lessons she learned, so he felt kind of weird and superfluous. And it was somehow portrayed that Other Guy not knowing about/appreciating her sport side was worse than Braden not knowing about/appreciating her “girly” side. The whole point was that Charlie was learning about another aspect of herself, and realizing that any guy she had in her life also would need to understand that she is multi-faceted. She wasn’t “just” the sports girl.
Of course, the fact that she’s sixteen means that I roll my eyes at her romance anyway. I would say that it’s because I’m getting old, but the truth is that I didn’t date in high school because even then I felt like it was pointless to invest so much time, energy, and money into a relationship that is statistically unlikely to be permanent, and, even if it is going to become permanent, will still have to drag on for ages before marriage is actually an option. Yes, I fear I was a rather boring teenager, haha.
Anyway, this review is getting long and rambly. Point is, I liked it. I liked that it wasn’t full of sex or discussions of sex. I liked that we didn’t have to have pages devoted to Charlie having a period. I liked that she had a loving, supportive, protective family. I liked that she had a dad who sincerely cared about her and wanted the best for her. I liked that there were no Evil Girls, and that the “girly” girls were just as personable as the “sports” girls. While the book still induced some eye-rolling moments, on the whole it was an enjoyable read, and I’ll be checking some more of West’s work in the future. 4/5.