Tonight the Streets Are Ours // by Leila Sales


//published 2015//

Arden lives in a small town in western Maryland.  She’s the good girl – solid grades, always there for her friends, works backstage for the drama club, dates a nice boy, doesn’t break the house rules.  But Arden is starting to wonder why it feels like she loves everyone around her more than they love her.  Arden stumbles across a blog written by a boy in New York City called Tonight the Streets Are Ours.  She’s amazed at how what Peter writes seems to echo so many of her own questions and thoughts.  When Arden reaches a breaking point, she takes off to NYC to try and find Peter, leading to whole slew of adventures.

I still have really mixed feelings about this book.  It’s the kind of book that makes me think that maybe I really am too old to read YA.  There were so many times in this book that my eyes almost rolled out of my head.  Arden just is so young.  So many of her problems are only problems because she isn’t an adult with real problems yet.  When you’re a teenager, every moment seems so big and so momentous; every disappointment seems like the end of the world.  What Arden really lacked was perspective.  And while I felt like she got a little of that by the end, the overall message of the book seemed rather muddy to me.

Basically, Arden has grown up with a mother who does All The Things.  She’s the mom who bakes homemade cupcakes for your birthday at school, sends I-love-you notes in your lunch, is involved in everything a parent can do at your school – but in the good, non-embarrassing way.  She makes delicious meals, is always on the lookout for ways she make your life a little better, and is just an all-around really nice person.

Except before this book starts – she’s left.  Just left one night without a word to anyone.  And it was the whole plot with Arden’s mom that really, really annoyed me throughout.  Arden’s mom writes Arden this letter explaining why she left, and it is the most selfish, whiny, stupid letter I’ve ever read.  It was all about how she “didn’t know who she really was” and how she needed to “find herself” and discover “who I am individually instead of in relation to other people.”  Frankly, it was a bunch of bullshit.  You don’t walk out on your family without a word to “find yourself.”  Those are the words of selfish justification.

Arden’s mom had this whole list of “sacrifices” she had made, like not finishing college or pursuing a career because Arden’s big bad dad decided he was the breadwinner, so Arden’s poor, sad mother was forced to stay home and slave for her entire unappreciative family.  And the answer is – no?!  If you were stupid enough to marry someone and start a family with him without discussing the breadwinner/homemaking roles ahead of time – well, that sounds like you are a poor decision-maker, and I’m not sure why that’s everyone else’s fault.  Next, Arden and her brother are plenty old enough to be home by themselves now, so you are continuing to make the choice to not take classes or get a job or do whatever it is you want to do.  In short, I get extremely aggravated by people who choose to sacrifice various aspects of their life and then blame that choice on the people for whom they are theoretically sacrificing.  You made the choice.  Now you live with it.  You don’t frolic off the New York City leaving behind your children with no explanation other than “your dad spends too much time playing fantasy football.”  Seriously?

So for me, the whole thing with Arden’s mom distracted me from really enjoying the rest of the story.  I think that Sales was trying to help Arden see that while love does mean sacrificing for people sometimes, it doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice for everyone all the time… or something like that.  I wasn’t sure what exactly she was trying to say.  In the end, Arden says, “Maybe loving somebody means simply they bring out the best in you, and you bring out the best in them – so that together, you are always the best possible version of yourself.”  Which sounds nice, but doesn’t actually mean anything when it comes to sticking out through years of marriage together.  You don’t just get up every day and smile at the other person and say, “Here I am, bringing out the best in you!”

Love is about sacrifice, and in a balanced relationship, both parties are willing to sacrifice together for the best of the team.  I guess that I wish that Arden’s lesson focused a little more on understanding balance rather than ending with rainbows and sparkles and nothing of real sustenance.

There was also the whole thing about her arranging to rent a hotel room even though she is underage so she and her boyfriend can spend a night shagging together – that felt incredibly awkward and weird.  Weirder, honestly, than the whole “let’s run away to New York City!” spontaneous thing.

I will say that the actual writing in the book was quite good –

Arden tried to look at everything so she could commit every last bit of it to memory.  …  Already she felt nostalgic for tonight.  Already she could imagine herself months from now, wishing that she had made more of this one night while she was still in it.

I think that part of the reason I was confused about the message about love through Arden’s mom’s story was because I felt like the message of love told through the story between Arden and her best friends, Lindsey, was handled really well.  Lindsey is always in trouble about something, and Arden is always bailing her out.  Arden learning that love does not always equal “constant protection” was a good lesson and I thought done well.

The plot line about Arden finding out about Peter in real life, and understanding how his blog wasn’t necessarily who he is in reality was also handled excellently, a reminder that when we only know about someone from the internet, we only know what they choose to tell us.

Overall, I didn’t really hate this book, but it wasn’t one that I would recommend.  I didn’t really walk away feeling like Arden had matured much, or that she really understood what genuine love is all about.  3/5 for interesting characters and a decently written story.

This book was brought to my attention by Bee’s review over on Heart Full of Books.  I have to say, rereading her review, I feel like I’ve been a bit harsh on this story, as she really enjoyed it quite a lot.  So be sure to check out her perspective as well!