by Dahlia Adler
Expected Publication Date: November 17, 2015
Length: 348 pages
Publisher: Spencer Hill Contemporary
Obtained Via: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book from the author in exchange for honest review consideration. This in no way affected my final opinion of the work.
View at the Traffic light:
Reagan Forrester wants out—out of her trailer park, out of reach of her freeloading mother, and out of the shadow of the relationship that made her the pariah of Charytan, Kansas.
Victoria Reyes wants in—in to a fashion design program, in to the arms of a cute guy who doesn’t go to Charytan High, and in to a city where she won’t stand out for being Mexican.
One thing the polar-opposite best friends do agree on is that wherever they go, they’re staying together. But when they set off on a series of college visits at the start of their senior year, they quickly see that the future doesn’t look quite like they expected. After two years of near-solitude following the betrayal of the ex-boyfriend who broke her heart, Reagan falls hard and fast for a Battlestar Galactica-loving, brilliant smile-sporting pre-med prospective… only to learn she’s set herself up for heartbreak all over again. Meanwhile, Victoria runs full-speed toward all the things she thinks she wants… only to realize everything she’s looking for might be in the very place they’ve sworn to leave.
As both Reagan and Victoria struggle to learn who they are and what they want in the present, they discover just how much they don’t know about each other’s pasts. And when each learns what the other’s been hiding, they’ll have to decide whether their friendship has a future.
Normally when I read a book, I write my review almost right away because I know *exactly* what I want to say. However, it took me WEEKS to digest my thoughts on Just Visiting. I knew I liked it–A LOT–but I couldn’t quite articulate why. Was it the friendship aspect? That was great, certainly. Was it the nerdy Reagan/Dev ship that stole my heart? Well, I did love that. The more somber, serious tone that was a departure from the previous book of Adler’s I had read? That was part of it. But in the end, I think my final admiration for this book comes down to the fact that it’s a perfect mix of feeling like a YA book I’ve read before but doing something NEW with it.
Reagan and Victoria(Or “Vic”, as she normally goes by), are friends who set out on a trip of college visits across the state of Kansas. While these visits are not really the point of the story, they move the plot along organically and I loved how much the book was focused on them. It’s really rare to see a YA book so focused on this period of time, right at the tip of almost getting the chance to do something new but not quite there yet. There is a LOT of realistic talk and worrying about the future from both Reagan and Victoria, but despite their fast friendship, they don’t really talk about it. . . at least, not at first.
Reagan and Vic’s friendship is like a breath of fresh air in YA. It’s REAL and true, but it’s not sunshine and butterflies. It offers sometimes different between the usual dichotomy of freenemies or all-encompassing friendships. Reagan and Vic care about each other, but they haven’t really been friends *that* long and in many ways, they still don’t know how to relate and support each other. They try, but sometimes they fail. As Vic says in the book, they “know” each other. . . but often, they don’t “know” each other at all. It’s such an honest look at how awkward friendships–even between best friends–can be and how sometimes it feels like you’re fumbling along in that friendship hoping you stumble upon the right combination. I really loved how Just Visiting highlighted how much work friendship can be.
Beyond that, there’s a lot of serious topics touched upon in Just Visiting. Both Reagan and Vic realize early on that what they thought they wanted might not be what they want in the end. Vic slowly realizes that maybe the community college in the town she’s yearning to get away from could be a good stepping stone, and Reagan starts to realize that she’s still letting things in her past hold her back. All those conflicting emotions are portrayed so earnestly, which really made me feel for both Vic and Reagan.
Just Visiting really does portray small town life in a way that feels rather true to life, though I did have to suspend my disbelief at one thing: the community college. The way Charytan was portrayed was that it was this tiny, tiny town where everyone knew each other. . . which made me wonder how there was such a robust community college that could have employed both of Vic’s parents and have a fashion design program. But I don’t know the statistics of how large a town generally is to have a community college(The nearest community college to my small town is 45 minutes away, but that’s just *my* town, clearly not the situation for every small town), so it’s definitely possible. It just surprised me.
That being said, I did really enjoy the portrayal of Charytan. Vic and Reagan want to get out, but that doesn’t mean everyone does. Vic strikes up a friendship with a guy who’s going to community college while working at the diner and is happy with it, which influences her changing perspective. Vic’s family is also really great. Her parents are supportive of her passions and while there’s not a whole lot of page time dedicated to her family, the support and close-knit relationship is palpable. I loved the inclusion of sign language, as Vic’s mom is deaf–it’s woven into the story so naturally, but also made clear.
Reagan’s family, on the other hand, is the polar opposite. For the most part, Reagan has to fend for herself. She has to save up all her money from working at the diner to just be able to go on the college visits. The money issues were never swept under the rug and because of that, it really rang true. It’s mentioned that Reagan has to scrimp and save just to buy new clothes, and she has trouble with her assignments when they have to be typed, as she doesn’t have a computer and can’t always get to the library(on account of her job).
As I’ve come to expect, Just Visiting contains frank discussions when it comes to the issues that teens actually faced. One scene, which I’ll always remember, has Vic and Reagan traveling hours just to get the morning after-pill. They basically have to travel all day to obtain it, which is by no means an unusual situation in the real world. It’s the kind of stark realism that unfortunately feels rare in YA. Beyond that, there’s also the issue of just trying to figure your life out, which can make anyone’s head spin at any age.
There were lots of excellent parts of Just Visiting, but the real strength of this book lies at the core of Reagan and Vic’s friendship, which is explored in-depth without glossing over the messiness and mistakes that friendship can often bring.
While not at all what I expected, I really enjoyed and appreciated the portrayals of friendship and small town life in Just Visiting. It rang especially true for me, as I’m back in the small town I grew up in, and I think it will ring even truer for teens still in their own small towns, both those yearning for something more and those who wonder if they can make it work past throwing their cap in the air graduation night. 4/5 cupcakes.