This Week’s Sort Of, Kind Of, Almost Favorite

Enticing, no?

Enticing, no?

Certain books send me into fits of ecstasy. Books by authors I’ve loved in the past. Books with particularly intriguing premises. So yes, I pretty much had a fit when I saw that one of my favorite authors had written a new book that could be mine, ALL MINE, in e-galley form this week. I had to have it. I had to read it. I paced the floor of my apartment, racking up a solid half-mile on my pedometer, until the heavens opened, angels sang, and I received the notification email that I’d been approved to read Steve Watkins’ newest: Juvie (due out October 8, 2013).

Here’s what you need to know. Juvie tells the story of Sadie Windas, a basketball star, good student, and all-around nice kid who takes the fall for her delinquent older sister’s mistake and ends up in juvie for six months. Sadie tells herself that her sister will clean up her act, that she’s doing the right thing for little Lulu, her sister’s three-year-old daughter. But lockup is lockup, and while Sadie suffers through hell inside, who’s to say that Carla is actually going to make good on any of her promises?

I was predisposed to like Juvie. I love Steve Watkins’ writing and his command of realistic fiction. I love the gently spiritual overtones to a lot of his stories, and his commitment to his characters’ redemption. Plus, the topic was intriguing: What happens when a good kid ends up “inside”? I wanted to know where Sadie’s journey would take her, especially as she encountered a cast of interesting, heartbreaking, and terrifying supporting characters.

So here’s the giant bummer. Even though I wanted to love Juvie, even though I tried to love Juvie, even though I enjoyed the story in many ways–especially Sadie’s relationships with her fellow inmates, and her believable response to the mental torture of being locked up–ultimately, this book just didn’t go anywhere.

Sadie lands in juvie because she’s trying to save her sister. So, one might think that the message of this book is that we can’t save anyone else–we can only save ourselves. The thing is, Sadie’s sacrifice does work (spoiler alert: her sister does get her life back on track), which is at cross-purposes with Sadie’s big emotional moment in a juvie crisis situation–that she’s no longer going to take the fall for anyone else.

Here’s another problem: It’s pretty clear that Sadie’s relationship with her boyfriend, like most of her close relationships, is fairly one-sided. She’s there for him; he’s rarely there for her. (Or he’s there when it’s convenient.) And yet, at the end of the story (another spoiler alert), even after Sadie’s big realization that she needs to let go of this savior complex, she still contemplates re-forging a relationship with him. Um, what? He’s not a bad guy but…really Sadie? You want to go back to the guy who couldn’t even bother to show up for your court date?

There were a lot of beautiful moments in this book, even moments of deep insight into human nature and behavior. But what I couldn’t get past was the feeling that Juvie just wasn’t sure what it was about. I’m not saying don’t read it; I’m just saying that you shouldn’t be surprised when it doesn’t quite deliver.

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